Vanilla is a non-timber forest resource that has been cultivated in some countries of the world as an alternative for sustainable development. Its flavor and aroma are unique, generating economic dynamism in the global food and cosmetics industries. For this reason, PERU-Hub is studying the possibility of managing and using this resource so that, in the long term, it can become an important economic activity in the San Martin region.
PERU-Hub is modeled on the work carried out by the non-governmental organization – Biological Research and Eastern Mountain ranges (INIBICO), which promotes the cultivation of vanilla beans in the city of Tarapoto. This NGO uses different agroforestry systems to extract the essence of the fruit, which is used to make ice cream, cosmetics, nutritional supplements, and other products. Natural vanilla is also used for its healing properties to fight diseases such as hair loss and stomach illnesses.
Vanilla is easily recognized by its flower, which is a large and attractive orchid, and by its colored petals (white, green, yellow, or cream). The flavor, aroma, and extract to obtain vanilla come from a curing process of the pods which are the fruits of the orchid. When they ripen, they are boiled and left in the sun until they acquire a brown color and a hard consistency. Finally, the vanilla takes the form of a narrow branch, like cinnamon.
Vanilla is a climbing plant, in other words, it uses other plants for support, with stems that can reach more than 35 meters in length. There is an important link between vanilla and the sustainable use of biodiversity, as it can be cultivated in three different ways. The traditional option is to plant it directly on the trunks in a forest, the other alternative is to grow it together with other trees that act as tutors, providing shade and organic matter. But it can also be grown through shaded installations, guiding the plants on poles, ropes, or wires. This last option facilitates harvesting and allows better control of the
appearance of pests and diseases.
In this sense, the cultivation of vanilla is culturally, ecologically, socially, and economically important, since, by growing on the trees of tropical and subtropical forests, it becomes an element of conservation of the natural flora.