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Spice is right as Indonesian startups eye value in vanilla | Reuters | Business

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By Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian Sofa Arbiyanto had a manufacturing job in South Korea two years ago when he learned about the high price of vanilla on the global market, and decided to try his luck at growing it.

Now he has 2,000 vanilla vines on a 1,200-sq-metre (0.3-acre) farm in Blora, Central Java, started after he did some internet research and joined online groups of vanilla farmers.

“My initial view that farmers live in hardship and poverty has changed,” said the 30-year-old. “With a touch of innovation and technology, it is a promising opportunity.”

Arbiyanto is one of a growing number of millennial start-up vanilla farmers in the southeast Asian nation, which is eager to revive spice shipments to diversify its farm exports, now dominated by palm oil.

The interest in cultivating one of the world’s most valuable spices has sparked a small movement back to the land at a time when farmers have been leaving for jobs in congested cities.

The Indonesian Vanilla Farmers’ Association (PPVI) says 43% of the nearly 600 farmers it has trained are aged between 25 and 35, a demographic that is typically tech-savvy.

Many have learned farming methods from YouTube, and get tips and guidance from experienced farmers through group chats on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, said Mahdalena Lubis, the association’s spokeswoman.

PPVI’s YouTube channel has more than 13,000 subscribers and combined views of its videos exceed a million, she added.

The demand is no surprise, as vanilla beans from top exporter Madagascar were more expensive than silver last year, although prices have since fallen from highs of about $600 a kg.

After typhoons in 2017 and 2018 in the Indian Ocean island sent prices skyrocketing, buyers are looking for more sources of the spice, used in anything from cakes and cookies to sauces and perfume.

Start-up Indonesian farmers are betting on the labour-intensive beans, aware that high-quality crops can fetch them better prices, owing to the painstaking process of pollination by hand.

STRONG POTENTIAL

Indonesia is a distant second to top producer Madagascar, which provides 80% of world supply. McCormick & Co, the world’s largest spice company, is partnering with farmers in the islands of Papua and Sulawesi to secure its supply of Indonesian vanilla.

“Although Madagascar remains the gold standard as far as vanilla quality is concerned, Indonesia has strong potential to become an alternative origin, in terms of quantity and quality,” McCormick said in an emailed statement.

The coronavirus pandemic has boosted consumer demand for vanilla, as well as that from packaged food companies, it added.

Aust & Hachmann, the world’s oldest vanilla trader, estimated that Indonesia would produce about 200 tonnes of beans this year, double last year’s estimate.

In a bi-annual report, the trader said stay-at-home orders around the world had benefitted vanilla, with jumps in grocery shopping and home cooking.

Despite strong demand, shipments faced delays because of virus-related disruptions in trade, causing an annual drop of 18% for the January to May period, Indonesian trade data showed.

But that trend is unlikely to last.

“When the new normal begins and trade activities are gradually increased…vanilla exports will become one of the mainstays of trade that will be expanded,” said Kasan, a director-general in Indonesia’s trade ministry.

But vanilla prices can be volatile, making farming a risky enterprise, Kasan, who uses one name, cautioned.

Lubis, of the vanilla farmers’ group, said ensuring quality was vital to avoid mistakes of the kind that had led big buyers in the past to reject prematurely picked beans, forcing many farmers to switch crops.

“In the global market, we have to be able to compete in maintaining quality to be able to significantly increase our exports,” Lubis added.

But Mohamad Akbar Budiman, 30, is undeterred as he combines work as a civil servant in the province of Banten with an effort to revive once-abandoned cultivation of beans in his backyard.

“Growing vanilla doesn’t take much space, and it’s not difficult.”

(Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)



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Eshkawkogan featured in Top 100 Magazine of country’s business professionals

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Kevin Eshkawkogan, the president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario, is featured in an issue of The Top 100 Magazine for Canadian business professionals. – Photo supplied

By Sam Laskaris

LITTLE CURRENT – Kevin Eshkawkogan had a simple request when he was approached to be featured in a prestigious magazine.

Eshkawkogan, the president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO), was asked to be in an issue of The Top 100 Magazine. The issue focusses on the Top 100 Canadian business professionals.

“They reached out to me,” said Eshkawkogan, a member of M’Chigeeng First Nation who lives in Little Current on Manitoulin Island. “They saw my name coming up in multiple places.”

Though flattered by the interest, Eshkawkogan stressed he was not interested in an article strictly about him. He wanted the focus to be on the ITO.

“They wanted to do the story on me, just as an individual,” he said. “But the work I do is not for my well-being, it’s for the community good. I didn’t think it should just be a celebration of the work I do. It’s a celebration of the Indigenous tourism work we do.”

Besides being a member of M’Chigeeng First Nation, Eshkawkogan also has plenty of connections with a pair of other First Nations on Manitoulin Island.

His mother is from the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, which is also where his current business office is located. And his father is from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, while his stepfather is a M’Chigeeng First Nation member.

As of this year, the ITO had more than 550 Indigenous tourism business members. The association also has about 300 members that represent non-Indigenous tourism businesses.

Eshkawkogan admits the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been a tremendous blow to many ITO members this year.

Restrictions forced many of those businesses to close their doors for months. And even many of those that have been able to recently open up again are facing significant losses and financial difficulties.

“Businesses are still closing, basically daily,” Eshkawkogan said. “We’re crossing our fingers some of these will be temporary.”

Indigenous tourism businesses in Ontario cover many sectors, including restaurants and businesses offering cultural experiences, camping, hotels, lodges and tours.

Eshkawkogan believes there is and will continue to be a great need for Indigenous tourism businesses in the province. And he’s confident that one day, the industry will once again be a booming one.

“Indigenous people are very resilient people,” he said. “And Indigenous tourism businesses are resilient. We’ve got a great recipe to come back even stronger.”

As an example, Eshkawkogan mentioned Anishinaabe/Algonquin chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette, who closed his popular NishDish restaurant in Toronto recently.

“He’s very much a forward-thinker,” Eshkawkogan said. “I know they’re going to come back.”

Eshkawkogan realizes, however, it is going to take some time for the Indigenous tourism industry to recover in the province.

ITO has created a five-year strategic and COVID-19 recovery plan.

“We will be back, stronger than ever,” he said.

Eshkawkogan added the ITO officials have realized since March how much of an impact the pandemic will have on the Indigenous tourism industry in the province.

The ITO released information on the potential economic impacts the pandemic would have in both March and April. And ITO released its recovery plan in June.

“We’re proud of the work we do with Indigenous tourism businesses in Ontario,” he said.

Eshkawkogan is also heavily involved in hockey. He is currently the District 7 council director for the Northern Ontario Hockey Association.



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Bruce Power recertified at highest level by Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

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Bruce Power has been awarded a Gold level certification for the third time by Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) for excellence in Indigenous relations.

This is the highest level of recognition offered by the CCAB. Bruce Power was awarded gold in 2014 and 2017, and the company is one of only 18 in Canada to have received the designation.

“We’re honoured to have received this recognition for a third time, and we are grateful to Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business for its recognition of our efforts,” said David Abbott, Bruce Power’s Director, Indigenous Relations and Business Partnerships. “We’ve spent many years forging a strong relationship with the Indigenous communities which host our site upon their traditional territories. We have listened to and learned from each other, and have collaborated on many projects that will have lasting benefits for Indigenous communities.”

The Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Program is a comprehensive initiative offered by CCAB that supports improvement and best practices in Indigenous relations. A gold-certified company means the PAR criteria is ingrained at all levels of the business, driven through policy, strategy, mature processes and innovative enhancements over a number of years. A gold organization has a high level of appreciation of the significance of positive Indigenous relations. They are a role model for Indigenous relations with a continuous-improvement philosophy, with positive results and good support from Indigenous communities.

“We are thrilled that yet again, Bruce Power has demonstrated its commitment to Indigenous prosperity and economic reconciliation supported by our PAR program,” said Tabatha Bull, president and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. “This gold certification demonstrates the company’s dedication to Indigenous relations through all aspects of their business.

“Congratulations on your hard work, Bruce Power.”

Bruce Power submitted its PAR application in June, the details of which were then verified by an independent third party in August. Bruce Power’s outcomes and initiatives in four performance areas – employment, business development, community investment and community engagement – were reviewed by a jury of Indigenous business people before the gold designation was granted.

“I want to congratulate Bruce Power for its third recertification by CCAB for their exceptional relationships with Indigenous communities across the province,” said Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Minister of Indigenous Affairs. “Bruce Power continues to develop meaningful partnerships with Indigenous businesses and communities across the province, helping to build a robust nuclear industry and supply chain here in Ontario.”

To learn more about the CCAB visit www.ccab.com. To learn more about Bruce Power’s Indigenous Relations program, visit www.brucepower.com/in-the-community/community-programs/indigenous-relations/.

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Fed up with city council, business owner withdraws offer to donate amber lights for Winnipeg school zones

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Chuck Lewis says he’s had enough with bureaucracy and politics at Winnipeg’s city hall, and is pulling an offer to install amber flashing lights in Winnipeg school zones.

“It’s been going on long and the cost goes up every year … so at some point, you have to just take a step back,” Lewis said Thursday.

The owner of Expert Electric initially made an offer more than five years ago to donate two solar-powered flashing lights in each city school zone.

The city launched a process to examine the proposal and accepted the gift in 2019, but there were many details to sort out in a formal agreement.

A draft agreement would have seen Lewis install 480 units, at a minimum rate of two units per month.

The city eventually determined some school zones needed more than two units, and said it would need to install 391 additional lights, at an estimated cost of nearly $1.4 million. There was no approved budget for the additional lights.

Lewis installed some flashing lights last winter on Bedson Street, to pilot his offer of installing two lights per school zone across the city. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Lewis says he signed an agreement with the city this spring on the donation, but was later told the employee with whom he’d signed the document had left their job, and it needed to be redone. 

He finally threw in the towel on Thursday, when he heard decisions on the donation had been referred to another committee.

“I thought this fall we were rolling this out,” he said.

The matter was the subject of much back-and-forth between councillors on the city’s property, planning and development committee and members of the city’s public service at the committee’s Thursday meeting.

Among other issues, concerns were raised about which zones might be equipped first, whether priority would be given to those that had higher instances of speeding tickets, how the city would budget for its costs, and whether the property and planning committee was even the appropriate place to discuss traffic and public works issues.

“I would hate to see us lose a willing partner in this,” said chair Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) before the councillors voted.

That’s what happened in the end — after the committee voted three to one in favour of sending the matter to the city’s executive policy committee, Lewis withdrew his offer.

Waverely West Coun. Janice Lukes was the lone dissenter in the vote. 

“It’s been here for two years and I think we really need to make a decision on this,” she said.

Lewis, for his part, was fed up with the process.

“This whole thing is about children’s safety and not money. And why wouldn’t you start rolling out the lights? The only reason they’re not, it’s about the money,” Lewis told CBC News.

The electrical contractor rejected the idea he should stick out the process at city hall, saying his own personal costs had risen beyond what he’d expected. After several years of trying, he says he saw no end to the delays in getting the project completed. 

“You’re constantly fighting or trying to wrap your mind around what you can do next to try to get it passed.”

Politicians express regret at loss of donation 

Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood), who had championed Lewis’s cause, expressed dismay the donation had been rescinded.

“I’m going to work with Mr. Lewis and others to bring it back in a different fashion and try to find another way,” Klein said. “It is really disappointing to see this become political.”

In a statement, Gilroy said the loss of the offer was “unfortunate.”

Mayor Brian Bowman also expressed regret through a spokesperson.

“The mayor has been supportive of accepting the donation and will discuss this matter with his council colleagues, and have more to say after Monday’s [executive policy committee] meeting,” the statement said.

Lewis says he may consider starting the process again, but not until there is a change of government at city hall.

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