It surprised me to see three brands of Vanuatu grown coffee for sale in Luganville. Alongside the well-known Tanna coffee there was a selection from Aore Island and a haphazard collection of different bags branded as Cafe de Vanuatu. I found the origins of this coffee at VARTC ( Vanuatu Agricultural Research Technical Centre ),10km north of Luganville.
The VARTC farm is quite compact and it did not take long to find children on school holidays picking the arabica beans (30 Vatu for 1kg or about 40c NZ ). From picking to roasting, the whole operation is done by hand.
With a new wharf being built in Luganville and more cruise ships visiting it would be an ideal time to package the operation for tourists in a similar way to Tanna Coffee in Efate.
In the meantime you will have to buy the very good quality arabica beans at LCM ( the best supermarket in Luganville ), I just hope the branding gets some love.
A block of land north of Port Vila with a multitude of food-producing plants is now open to visitors. The brainchild of Jimmy Nipo and his wife Ledcha Nanuman, Fansa Farm Foodie Tours has been designed to showcase the best in Vanuatu’s food while also wanting to demonstrate new crop varieties and farming practices better suited to Vanuatu’s shifting weather patterns.
Crops you will see on the foodie tour include pineapple, mango, pawpaw, taro, drought resistant yam,kava, corn, tamarind, banana, breadfruit, sugarcane, pepper, chilli, kumala (kumara), coconut, nangai (an almond like nut ) and manioc (cassava) which Jimmy says represents continuity: “Manioc is always there, it just keep going, it feeds us and provides our energy throughout the seasons,” he says.
Jimmy Nipo and Ledcha Nanuman come from the island of Tanna in the south of Vanuatu.
Jimmy says Fansa Farm takes its name from the fansa bird (similar to a fantail ) which holds special significance as a leader in Tanna Island culture.
“The fansa leads all other birds to food. It is active, smart and creative, and never stops moving,” says Jimmy. “Fansa also means safe, and for us Ni-Vanuatu, that relates to food security
which is very important for our survival” he says.
Visitors to Fansa Farm can choose between three tours ranging from two to four hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.
The Food Path provides a guided tour through the farm with refreshments and produce on offer along the way.
Food Path and ‘aelan-style’ Cooking provides a guided tour through the farm with refreshments and produce along the way followed by an opportunity to cook local dishes ‘aelan style’.
The third tour, Food Path, Port Vila Market and brunch at Lapita Cafe is offered in partnership with Port Vila’s Lapita Café, well known suppliers of high quality aelan cuisine ( the Lapita Cafe food at the opening was delicious ). The tour includes a guided tour of the farm, then a tour of the Port Vila central market, followed by brunch.
After 28 yrs of Vanilla production in Vanuatu Pierro Bianchessi has left for Italy, his homeland. An organic chemist, Bianchessi arrived in Vanuatu in 1987 and found the perfect climate for growing vanilla.
He established Venui Vanilla and by 1991 demand had increased beyond what he could produce on his own land. Growers were contracted and trained from northern islands in Vanuatu, processing 2000-2500 tons of vanilla each year at the peak of production. Certified organic from 1997, Pierro marketed the vanilla himself at food shows in Europe, NZ , Australia and New Caledonia. Venui Vanilla quickly became Vanuatu’s premiere artisan food producer.
Vanilla needs a dry coolish winter of 7-8 weeks for successful pollination and although this was possible initially the amount of vanilla being processed has now dropped to 2-300kg per year. Bianchessi states this is a direct result of climate change.
Venui Vanilla now also produces peppercorns, turmeric, chillies and ginger and to reflect this has been rebranded Venui Vanilla – Spices of Vanuatu. Venui would have to process five times the amount of peppercorns to replace the value of the declining vanilla crop according to Bianchessi.
New Zealand has strong links with Venui. An Auckland based graphic designer created the cool looking soft packaging and New Zealand’s BioGro Organic Certification was achieved in 2013. This certification also covers the 200 small farmers who supply the company.
A new manager has been found and the company has been sold to LCM, a very established grocery business based in Luganville. A new cold pressed centrifugal coconut oil processing facility is being built as a result of the new investment.
Although departing, Bianchessi was optimistic the organic ethos of Venui will continue. He believes Vanuatu has a good future with food production as it remains naturally organic, the last of the Pacific Islands to be in this state.
Getting seeds back in the ground was an urgent need post Cyclone Pam. I was asked by UN Women to photograph one of the seed distribution events at Marobe Market in Efate. Being immersed among two hundred women patiently waiting for their allotment of seeds is something I will not forget in a hurry.
Every person given seeds had their name recorded one by one and Alice Kalo showed amazing patience and resilience to complete the job, writing each name by hand. Some of the seeds were handed out to individuals at the market while others decided to wait until getting home.
The allocation per person was 23 pumpkin seeds, 9 pawpaw seeds, 8 watermelon seeds, 30-40 sweetcorn seeds and approx 35 dwarf bean seeds.