Vanilla farmers hit hard by low prices

People inspecting vanilla plantations. Theft continues to be one of the biggest challenges vanilla farmers face. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • There are also heightened fears that the prices may drop further in the coming weeks. Despite the falling prices, the farmers say they have spent a lot of money to guard their gardens from armed thugs who raid them to steal the crop.

As the Vanilla harvesting season winds up, farmers have expressed concern over the low prices amid rising costs incurred during the planting season.

Currently, a kilogramme of vanilla goes for Shs50, 000, a price that has stagnated for a year.

There are also heightened fears that the prices may drop further in the coming weeks. Despite the falling prices, the farmers say they have spent a lot of money to guard their gardens from armed thugs who raid them to steal the crop.

Vanilla is a high-value export commodity and this has forced greedy people to steal immature vanilla from the farm.

On average, vanilla farmers pay Sh800,000 for a private guard during the entire season, which lasts six months.

“Considering what we have invested so far, it will be very difficult to make meaningful profits if the prices continue to drop,”Mr Peter Musisi, the chairperson of Vanilla Farmers Association in the Greater Masaka Sub-region, says.

Mr Henry Kimera, another vanilla farmer in Kyotera District, says although there is a fall in prices, the crop fetches good returns compared to other cash crops such as coffee.

“Although the prices have dropped, vanilla still fetches good prices because there is no other crop here where a kilogramme buys at Shs50,000,” he says while urging his fellow farmers to bear with the price fluctuation.

Mr Joseph Kkonde, a vanilla farmer from Nkakwa-Masugga Village, Ssi Sub-county in Buikwe District, says as farmers, they had come up with the idea of exporting their vanilla and other products such as Cavendish banana (Bogoya) and Cocoa to European countries under their umbrella Bogoya Vanilla and Cocoa Farmers Association-BOCOVACO, but their efforts were frustrated by ill-intentioned middlemen.

“Our plan to register our own organisation was frustrated and we are still selling our produce to existing organisations, but still, according to surveys done in the international market, we are selling our vanilla at a cheaper price, which frustrates our efforts as farmers,” he says.

Currently, a kilogramme of vanilla in Mukono goes for between Shs25,000 and Shs40,000, according to Mr Konde

“What we earn is meager compared to what we invest in the business. The price needs to be revised upwards,” he says.

Hiring professional security guards with guns in Mukono, according to Mr Konde, costs between Shs300,000 and Shs350,000 per month. He said at least two security guards are needed to guard one acre of vanilla.

“The number of guards is determined by the area. Initially, under UVAN (U) Ltd, we would pay guards each Shs600, 000, but UVAN (U) Ltd was paying half that money and farmers could also foot half the amount. Currently, UVAN (U) Ltd withdrew from the paying of guards and we are paid peanuts where a kilogramme of vanilla goes for Shs40,000. In our understanding, at least a kilogramme should go for Shs100,000,” says Kkonde.

He says some armed thieves who steal vanilla connive with middlemen.

 “We task the government to find out where premature vanilla beans are being sold,” he adds.

Mr Edward Kisubiika, another farmer from Nsanja-Katosi Village in Mukono District, says he has specialised in vanilla growing and he is pondering adding other crops such as cocoa or coffee to supplement his income.

The chairperson of Bundibugyo District Vanilla Farmers Association, Mr Rashid Masereka, says the current economic crisis has forced some farmers to harvest and sell immature vanilla beans.

“We have told our farmers that harvesting immature beans compromises the quality hence killing the market, therefore, anyone caught harvesting immature beans will be apprehended,” he says.

Mr Yeremiya Kihingiko, the chairperson Bundibugyo Vanilla Buyers Association, advises farmers to always seek recommendation letters from village chairpersons authorising them to sell the ripe vanilla beans as a way of curbing theft and sales of immature vanilla pods.

Bundibugyo deputy Resident District Commissioner Umari Muhanguzi vows to arrest dealers who secretly purchase stolen immature vanilla beans.

“As security, we have agreed to work with farmers and buyers to track those dealing in illicit business of buying immature vanilla beans,”Umari says

The Bundibugyo District production officer, Mr Paul Murugi, underscores the need to support farmers with modern agronomical practices to maintain good quality in order to attract better market prices.

Mr Aga Sekalala Senior, one of the leading vanilla processors and exporters through Uvan (U) Limited, says they are buying a kilogramme of vanilla between Shs40,000 and Shs50,000.

 “Vanilla prices fell from Shs200,000 per kilogramme to Shs50,000 and they have never gone up since then. We appeal to our farmers to remain patient and in case the prices improve, we will officially communicate to them,” he says.

Mr Aineah Sikabyaholo, a vanilla farmer in Karugutu Town council, Ntoroko District, says he managed to harvest only 20 kilogrammes of vanilla this season, which he sold to a cooperative in Kasese at Shs50,000 per kilogramme .

“Cases of theft have reduced because the majority of the farmers have completed harvesting,” he says.

The Ministry of Agriculture set July 7 as the official date for the start of harvesting season, but some farmers began much earlier, reasoning that their crops were being stolen by armed thieves.

Compiled Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Diphas Kiguli, Alex Ashaba, Wilson Kutamba,Longino Muhindo                        


Most of Uganda’s black gourmet vanilla is exported to Europe with the exact grades sold to the US.

 In 2020, Uganda exported vanilla worth $13.3m (about Shs50.9 billion), making it the 10th largest exporter of vanilla in the world. Madagascar is the leading producer and exporter of vanilla to the international market with 1,200 to 2,000 metric tonnes

exported in a single season.

In the mid-90s, vanilla  became the leading source of income for many households  in the districts of Mukono, Mpigi, Luweero ,Bundibugyo, and Kasese, but some abandoned the crop due to fluctuating prices and thieves who raided their gardens .This trend has denied players a chance of making extra money from the international market.