Agriculture remains the backbone of Pacific Island economies. However, over the past decade, traditional cash crops such as copra have provided insufficient financial returns to local farmers. Subsequently governments and development agencies along with farmers themselves, are seeking new agricultural opportunities.

Vanilla production has become the new cash crop buzz in the South Pacific, and regional leaders such as Samoa’s Prime Minister (to name a few) are strong advocates urging locals to tap into the lucrative vanilla market. Hon. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi stated “We have lands, the perfect climate and the necessary political, administrative and community keenness to develop vanilla as a new export commodity for our farmers”. He went onto highlight the value of vanilla – “you get much more money from a half bucket of vanilla than a truckload of coconuts” (Samoan Observer, 2016).

Admittedly, the vanilla industry in the Pacific Islands is small compared to other key producing countries. In 2016, Madagascar produced 36% (2,926 tons) of the world’s vanilla production followed by Indonesia at 29% (2,304 tons). Let’s put this into context in relation to the Pacific Islands – at eighth and with an output of 180 tons of vanilla, only Tonga is ranked in the top ten vanilla producing countries (FAOSTATS, 2017).

While the potential long-term value of the vanilla industry to Pacific economies is unknown, production in Tonga has risen due to an increase in international prices with no signs of slowing down. The international price increased from $100 a kg in 2015 to $600 a kg in April 2017 (DevPacificPeriscope, 2017) following the cyclone in Madagascar in 2017 which damaged an estimated 30% of the country’s crop. Further the industry in Madagascar has been hit by claims of child labour and supply chain logistics. International prices are expected to continue to increase through 2018.

Governments in the Pacific Islands are seeking to develop (or to revitalise) vanilla production. Samoa and the Cook Islands are two examples. The government of Samoa has encouraged local farmers to cultivate vanilla by offering agricultural loans to help establish and in some cases, develop existing farms. The Cook Islands government has followed suit through the provision of support funds for local vanilla businesses to increase the number of growers and to tap into the global market. Further the Cook Islands is exploring ways in which to develop a strong export brand.

Although there is government support to help develop the vanilla industries in Pacific Island countries, local farmers face several challenges such as understanding and complying with quarantine standards, education and training in farming techniques, accessing regional and international markets, and the governance of exporters, etc.

This project examines recent initiatives in the vanilla industry in the Cook Islands, Niue and Samoa and draws upon previous research undertaken in Tonga. We are interested in understanding how the industry is being developed in each of these countries, and in particular what types of linkages are being established to international markets. A key question is the extent to which the industries are being incorporated into regional or global value chains and what this means for sustainability. If incorporation is not occurring what are some of the barriers in place? We are particularly interested in the potential long-term economic and social benefits that can accrue (or not) to vanilla farmers through participation in regional and global value chains.

The research project is led by Associate Professor Christina Stringer and Dr Sisikula Sisifa of the Department of Management and International Business, The University of Auckland Business School. Christina has undertaken extensive research into global value chains with a particular focus on New Zealand’s primate industries including fisheries and forestry. Sisikula is of Tongan descent. Her research interests include Pacific research methodologies, cross-cultural management, project management and sustainable development.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2017. FAOSTATS.

DevPacificPeriscope, 2017. Samoan vanilla grower’s hobby turns into lucrative business.

Samoan Observer, 2016. Ministry leads Samoa’s vanilla export drive.–vanilla-export-drive.htm