A consortium of the world’s biggest vanilla buyers have expressed desire to partner with stakeholders and position Uganda as a pivot for stabilising the natural vanilla market in the world, a minister has revealed.
State Minister for agriculture Christopher Kibanzanga said that the expression of interest into Uganda’s Vanilla by buyers under their Sustainable Vanilla Initiative is “good news for our farmers and exporters”.
The minister’s pronouncement is one of the urgent actions needed to improve the vanilla quality and secure the International market to justify a sustainable price for Ugandan vanilla in the context of the forth coming market mechanisms.
“We believe that Uganda can easily become the Global Leader in sustainable supply of Premium Quality Vanilla given our comparative and competitive advantages of the nation with a distinct climate of two harvesting seasons and the organic or traditional farming practices which entail limited or no usage of synthetic agro- chemicals,” Mr Kibanzanga said in a statement on declaration of vanilla harvesting dates.
The minister declared that the appropriate vanilla harvest dates shall be June 15 onwards for the first season and December 15 for the second season warning farmers to only pick ripe Vanilla beans.
“Only under exceptional circumstances, driven by weather uncertainties which lead to differences in plant growth in different regions, may these dates be brought forward or backward by two weeks in certain Districts. In this case, my Ministry staff will work with Local government staff, the private sector actors-especially farmers, local leaders and vanilla curers, to ascertain this need and make the necessary temporary harvest dates adjustment and announcement,” he said.
The minister warned that government will take strong punitive action against anyone found harvesting, or in possession of green vanilla beans outside these dates and he directed Ministry staff to be vigilant especially the Agricultural Police in collaboration with Operation Wealth creation commanders to work closely with the Private Sector to popularize these harvest dates, hunt down and expose all culprits.
Grown in 25 districts across Uganda, mainly in Central, Eastern and Western parts, vanilla is used to add flavour to drinks, dairy products, sweet food, cosmetic products and may also be applied in pharmaceutical industries.
According to Mr Kibanzanga, the dairy sector is the largest consumer of vanilla. It is used in ice cream, yoghurt, chocolate and other flavored dairy products.
“Prices for vanilla have been rising over the last few years due to increased demand against very low supply of quality beans. In Uganda, prices reached as high as Shs250,000 in July 2018 for green vanilla beans at the farm-gate. It is not surprising to hear that vanilla is now referred to as the “Green Gold”. This is because of the price fetched from cured vanilla which is higher than the value of one kilogram of silver,” he added.
Despite the immense potential, Mr Kibanzanga however said that the international market for natural vanilla is currently threatened by the poor quality vanilla we put on the market which arises from extensive harvesting and processing of immature vanilla.
“We have observed that each time vanilla prices rise, we receive cases of theft, loss of lives, wide spread premature vanilla harvesting which ultimately compromises the quality of the Ugandan vanilla. Worse of all, the vanilla farmer is the most affected party,” he added.
The minister said: “We have a window of opportunity to secure a growing long-term profitable vanilla sector. Vanilla has proved to be a sustainable and profitable crop for farmers in Uganda that has potential to deliver the country into the medium income status.”
Global consumption of vanilla ranges between 2,100 Metric tonnes to 2,400 Metric tonnes per year over the last 10 years.
However, there is now increasing demand for all-natural and organic vanilla from major Global food companies. In 2015 for instance, Nestle announced a major plan to go all-natural for all their products and eliminate artificial additives. This offers a major opportunity for Uganda which has the most conducive climate to increase the production of premium quality natural and organic vanilla.
In 2018, Uganda produced about 300,000 Kilograms of Vanilla and exported 23,000 Kilograms of cured vanilla worth $6.40 million.
In 2017 and 2018, the major importing countries for Ugandan vanilla included USA, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, Turkey and Hungary. Madagascar is the largest producer (1500 to 1800 MT per year) while Uganda only accounts for about 5 percent of the Global Production.
By David Sseguya