Vanilla Production in Costa Rica
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Paton Miller
Posted on: January 10, 2003

I own a 60 acre farm in Costa Rica and am interested in possibly starting an acre or so of Vanilla plants to see if it is a viable crop. Vanilla is grown in Costa Rica and I will do some research there this winter while I am there. I was hoping that you or someone at Richters would be able to give some advice and/or telephone #’s for advice and possible plants. It will most likely be easier to buy the plants in C.R. but a I’m just now starting research on this idea and any help would be greatly appreciated.

Vanilla Bean, is the fully-grown fruit of the orchid Vanilla fragrans (Salisb.) Ames (syn. V. plantifolia Andrews). The best cultivar (my opinion) is the Bourbon variety from Madagascar.

This will grow very well in Costa Rica, as much of it is now imported from that region into most of the world. I think FAS (Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA) even has precise volumes and prices sold within the US. It can be a very profitable crop, with correct marketing access. In fact I could create a list of crops best suited for Costa Rica.

There are numerous books on this subject. The best resources I would begin with would include Gunther’s Essential Oils (6-volume). Then, I would use the Tropical Agricultural Series on Spices (2-volume), Purseglove, et al. Longman House, Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex, UK, c1981. This is precisely how to begin cultivation and harvests.

Once you have decided on what you want to do, maybe you would like to fly me down for a "vacation?" I am available as an outside consultant, and have always wanted to travel to exotic lands. In that regard, I sort of "shot myself in the foot" when I decided to promote only crops grown in North America. BUT, we don’t cultivate this much in Hawaii, so..

Entering the markets will be your most difficult part of this project. ASTA (American Spice Trade Association) requires a 10% of gross sales - JUST for membership. "Good Ol’ Boy" club. But, they do have perks - like your pricing is open and can be lucrative. If you sold oil, however. Now you have the makings of a cottage industry, where labor is also important incomes to the community where this is grown. Hence, my first start with Gunther’s works.

They are out of print, so you will need to go to an inter-library loan. I xeroxed the entire set back in the 80s, just because I use them that frequently. I would begin all projects of this nature as seedling starts, and learn about the various diseases. To my knowledge, no one (yet) is offering a COG (certified organically grown) with this crop.

That would be how I would do it, as Gaia and Whole Foods Markets would be able to sell almost anything you could grow - AND, you would be directly bypassing ASTA with a cottage industry, and no competition.

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