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August 01, 2007

Uganda : middlemen prejudice vanilla farmers

Ugandan vanilla farmers will continue to lose a lot of money by selling their harvests to middlemen instead of dealing directly with processors and exporters. This was said by Bashir Kasekende, the field director of Vanilla Exporters of Uganda, the country's industry association.

"These middlemen buy from farmers at sh1,000 (US 60 cents) a kilogramme, which they sell to us at sh4,000, The farmer who used all his energy and resources to produce the vanilla gains nothing," lamented Kasekende.

Vanilla Exporters of Uganda association is assisted by USAID through the Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme to manage the vanilla industry in the country. Its members include Uganda Crop Industries Ltd, Esco Ltd, Buiga Farm Industries, Land Ways Agencies and Timex Ltd.

Kasekende says the middlemen confuse farmers by telling them to harvest 1-2 months before maturity. As a result, the harvested pods lose the vanillin content in them. "They buy the vanilla and keep it in stores waiting for the official harvesting time. Then they sell to the processors at higher prices. This is exploitation. We want all farmers to benefit from the crop," he said.

Kasekende said, "When vanilla is harvested before its maturity, it loses its quality and value because most of the vanillin is created from the seventh to the ninth month. So harvesting it before the right time gives a poor quality product and low price."

Vanilla is a tropical climbing orchid with a long green fleshy stem that sprouts roots that cling to trees parasitically. Its yellow or orange flowers grow in bunches, blooming one flower each day. The plant, which grows best above 500 meters elevation, is one of the best known flavour used in the food industry in pastries, cakes, desserts, liquors and perfumes.

Kasekende says exporters find themselves exporting extraction vanilla grade, a low-quality vanilla mainly for industrial use. This goes for $8 - $14 a kilogramme, yet the gourmet beans (black vanilla) with high vanillin, harvested at maturity goes for $30 - $35 kilo.

Uganda, which exports to the US, Canada and Europe 200 metric tonnes of vanilla annually from over 10,000 farmers, earns about $30m from the crop.

In 2005-2006, Uganda's vanilla was rated at 3.5%+, the world's highest vanillin content standard. Kasekende said this should be regained if the country is to rebuild international market confidence.

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