Woman Farmer Shows Way as Small Island Developing State Battles Pandemics Impacts

Organic vanilla farmer, Shelley Burich, works on her farm at Vaoala. Credit: FAO.
  • Opinion by Keni Lesa (apia, samoa)
  • Inter Press Service
  • Keni Lesa works on SIDS Solution Platform Communications for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Samoa

Although Samoa, with a population of less than 200,000, remains one of a few countries in the world without a positive Covid-19 case, its border closed in March 2020 after the government declared a state of emergency, dealing the country’s economy a decisive blow.

Tourism, regarded as the mainstay of the economy, has been crippled by the absence of foreign visitors for nearly two years. Hotels, restaurants and tourism-related businesses have had to shut their doors and look elsewhere to make ends meet. But it’s not just the inner circle of the tourism industry that has been affected. Domestic growers and farmers, who had relied on the steady and frequent influx of visitors, suddenly found themselves on the back foot.

Among them is Shelley Burich, the owner of an organic vanilla farm, which profited from the tourism industry. Burich’s farm and business, perched on the cool heights of Vaoala, overlooking Apia, the capital of Samoa, was booming prior to the pandemic.

“Before Covid I was relying a lot on tourists that would be coming to the islands,” said Burich. “I was getting people looking to come and tour the vanilla farm, and a lot of my business was word of mouth. So when the borders closed, that stopped.”

Like other farmers, Burich needed to be innovative to survive. She did not sit idle. Days of studying social media and innovation gave birth to her new baby, “Long Distance Vanilla.”

“I make my own composting and mulching to feed the vanilla, and from the vanilla beans we export our premium beans, which are the grade ones and twos,” she explains. “From the other beans I make value-added products like vanilla syrup, vanilla extract and vanilla powder.”

Outside-the-box thinking and digitalization were critical to transforming her fortunes.

“I decided to go full-time into the social media realm. I created an online store, and I had to figure out a way to keep my business generating products and getting it out of Samoa. My products are now being sold to Ireland, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the (United) States and all over.”

While Covid is an unwelcome challenge, Burich said it forced her to diversify. “And now I am doing a lot more on the social media platform. Even though I am sitting here in Samoa, I am actually building an online store for customers in Canada.”

But this woman farmer is not done — she has big plans in the pipeline.

“My dream is really to use (my experience) as a training farm, to get people more into growing and also teach them how to build a business online.”

The woman farmer from Samoa will soon share her story with the world in a bid to inspire others who have found themselves in a similar situation. Burich’s innovations will be among the solutions showcased at the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Solutions Forum, scheduled for 30-31 August 2021. She will share the stage with other success stories from SIDS around the globe.

The forum will create a space for government leaders, development partners, farmers, fishers, community development practitioners and leaders, entrepreneurs, women and youth to discuss, share, promote and encourage home-grown and imported solutions to respond to the challenges posed by Covid-19, and others that existed before the pandemic.

The ultimate goal is to accelerate the achievement of the agriculture, food and nutrition-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in SIDS.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service