Vanilla has emerged as a gender-neutral agricultural product with implications for social development in the Pacific Islands. Traditionally women have faced gender-based constraints to participation in agricultural value chains, however, women today are taking an active role in vanilla farming. For example, they play a vital role in the pollination process – a delicate exercise requiring accuracy and speed. Key players in various Pacific Islands have committed to increasing the participation of women in vanilla production. In Tonga, Heilala Vanilla has pledged to employ 200 women in the vanilla industry by 2022. Cook Island’s (former) Minister of Agriculture actively sought to promote the inclusion and participation of women in different stages of the value chain from production to marketing. Today, one of the most successful and productive vanilla shade-houses in Rarotonga belongs to his daughter.  Another aspiring female vanilla grower is currently constructing her own shade-house down the road. Further to this, there are two established female vanilla growers on Rarotonga. This positive trend of active participation of females in vanilla production can also been seen in Samoa where WIBDI (Woman in Business Development Inc) actively encourages new farmers to grow organic vanilla. Most of their new and emerging farmers tend to be women. Samoa’s most successful vanilla farmer is Shelley Burich of Vaoala Vanilla. Similarly, in Niue, local farmers acknowledge a woman, Mrs Rauru Vakaafi, as one of the trailblazers of the vanilla industry and founder of the NIOFA (Niue Island Organic Farming Associations). Although Pacific woman face many challenges to participating in agriculture, non-governmental organisations such as WIBDI and NIOFA continue to encourage and empower woman in the economy through sustainable practices aimed at lessening poverty.

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