Timor-Leste & Dili Vanilli – Producing a Country, an Economy and a Life

Dr. Martin Hardie
Dili Vanilli
Dili, Timor-Leste




The small half island of Timor-Leste, sitting as it does between Indonesia and Australia, is one of the most recent entrants to the international world of vanilla. Having had its independence restored in 2002, following the U.N. sponsored ballot of 1999, the country faces a number of barriers in building its base for international trading. To date oil, gas and coffee have been the mainstays of the economy. The growing of vanilla, first introduced during the period of Indonesian occupation, has during recent times started to become more popular within the country’s mainly ‘subsistence’ and ‘cash-crop’ agricultural sector. Until very recently most Timorese vanilla has been bought from and sold on the US extract market by the American National Cooperative Business Association’s (CCT) local conduit Cooperative Cafe Timor (CCT). The international boom in the price of vanilla of 2017-2019 saw the planting of vanilla increase rapidly as farmer’s were enticed with stories of high prices that at one point saw NCBA paying $70US per kg for green beans.


The name Dili Vanilli, which humorously raises the spectre of a bad 80’s pop group, actually takes its name from the country’s capital and the widely used Indonesian word for vanilla. The company began its operations in 2017 and immediately concentrated on distinguishing itself from the NCBA model and that of itinerant Indonesian and Chinese buyers.


Starting small, Dili Vanilli has focused on developing a unique national ‘brand’ of vanilla that was identifiable as being different from what had been seen as the variable quality vanilla produced in neighbouring Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Rather than focussing on bulk sales to the extract market, Dili Vanilli has worked with farmers and grown its own vanilla seeking position Timor within the gourmet vanilla market. This is a new approach to and had not previously been attempted with Timorese vanilla. Rather than exporting our lower grade vanilla to international producers, we have sought to develop our own products such as powders, extract, spices, tea and coffee blends. Along with that Dili Vanilli has sought to shorten the market chain for its products. In partnership with Dili Vanilli Australia it opened a web shop and single point wholesale distribution network in Australia. In 2022 we hope to open our first Australian retail store. By shortening the market chain and value adding by producing ‘downstream’ products in-country we hope to maintain some sort of price stability for farmers, build a local industry so that we can add in a more substantial way to the country’s small economy.


This is the story of Dili Vanilli, who and where we are, how and why we started and the prospects and barriers we face ….



Prior to Timor’s independence Martin Hardie acted as a legal officer for East Timorese resistance and subsequently as an advisor to a number of Timorese politicians including Xanana Gusmao, Nobel Peace prize recipient, Jose Ramos Horta and Dr Avelino Coelho. He has been an academic in Australia, Panama and Spain and has a PhD in legal anthropology. He has worked as a journalist, a lawyer and as the manager of rock bands. His legal work includes a series of cases that form the backbone of Australian Aboriginal intellectual property law. He has recently had a book published in the UK by Bloomsbury Hart, entitled Governing the Society of Competition which concerns the transformation of law in a global system, using the arena of professional cycling and doping as a case study. The book’s central thesis that the law has moved beyond being a matter solely for the courts and judges to a situation where right and wrong are being determined as much by the media and scientists. It foreshadows some of the issues that have arisen recently in relation to the Covid crisis. Martin left full time academia to return to Timor in 2017 and established Dili Vanilli. He lives with his wife Nolya Mesquita and her brother Frederico in the quite mountain town of Aileu where on their farm they grow vanilla and produce products for local and international sale.