In Indonesia, vanilla farmer Agustinus Daka uses a toothpick to pollinate each orchid on his farm by hand. About nine months later, he returns to pick the vanilla beans that have matured on the vine. No insect here naturally pollinates the flower, which originates from Central America.

Agustinus, who goes by Agus, is the leader of a small group of vanilla bean farmers in his village in Papua, an isolated province with Indonesia’s highest poverty rate. Here, most farmers only grow crops for their families to eat.

“I want my village to move beyond subsistence,” Agus said.

Triptych: Hands displaying fresh vanilla beans, hands gripping dried vanilla beans, rows of labeled glass flasks containing dark fluid (© Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID)
From left to right: Agustinus Daka harvests vanilla beans on his farm. The beans are then dried at a cooperative and tested in a lab. (© Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID)

With support from the United States Agency for International Development, a U.S.-based export company called Cooperative Business International (CBI) established a global supply market for Indonesia’s vanilla.

Afterward, Agus’ income doubled in two years. He is among 5,000 Indonesian small spice farmers directly connected with major global businesses through CBI.

Photo of woman holding vanilla beans, framed display of company logos (© Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID)
Maryland-based McCormick & Company is among the global businesses that get spices through Cooperative Business International. (© Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID)

After Agus harvests the beans, he sells them to a cooperative, where they are dried. The beans are then transported to a spice factory in Klaten — a city on another Indonesian island about 3,000 kilometers away — and ultimately sent to the U.S. and other countries.

“I am proud that my product is being exported to America,” he said.

Sam Filiaci, center, and two others smelling vanilla beans (© Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID)
Sam Filiaci, CBI’s senior vice president for Southeast Asia (center), monitors operations with others at a spice factory in Klaten, Indonesia. (© Thomas Cristofoletti/USAID).

The factory uses equipment imported from New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas. Meanwhile, Agus’ vanilla ends up in American grocery stores; it’s used in McCormick & Company’s vanilla extract and Costco’s vanilla ice cream.

“Even though we talk about the 700 people working in this facility, the employment that it creates in the United States or the destination market is even greater,” says Sam Filiaci, CBI’s senior vice president for Southeast Asia.

With the income Agus earns from selling vanilla, he can afford better health care for his family — his 4-year-old granddaughter Juanita suffered a bout of malaria, and his wife Juliana, 50, has diabetes.

“Now, I have hope for a better life for my family,” he said.

A longer version of this article is available from USAID.