Vanilla, a plant that is locally classified as a Kesor Kol – a type of orchid – produce arguably the second most expensive spice in the world, behind saffron. In high demand for use in food and cosmetics, the two largest producers of the plant are Madagascar and Indonesia.

In the future, the Ministry of Environment is hoping to change that.

The Cambodian climate is suitable for growing this labour-intensive crop, and although new to the Kingdom, the ministry established a vanilla plantation in the Kesor Kol Sok An Phnom Kulen Research and Conservation Centre, in Siem Reap province. The plantation was laid down two years ago, meaning the first harvest is just one year away.

Chanthy Someta, director of the Biosafety Office of the ministry’s Department of Biodiversity, said that the cultivation of this vanilla now is a big test. If successful, vanilla could become an important crop for Cambodians.

“For the past two years, our vanilla plants have been growing well. Visiting experts have told us they are healthy, and can be harvested next year,” he added.

The 10mx45m garden is thriving under the close supervision of park rangers, and is expected to earn around $5,000 a year. According to Someta, vanilla plants will provide a healthy yield for 12 to 14 years, after the initial two or three year wait from planting.

“We expect to sell vanilla fruit for $500 to $700 per kilogramme, depending on the species,” said Someta.

If successful, the centre may expand its plantation. The ministry is also considering distributing seeds to communities in protected areas, in order to create work for them.