Rwenzori vanilla farmers decry low prices

NTOROKO – Due to the low prices being offered by buyers, vanilla farmers in Ntoroko district and Rwenzori Sub-region at large have threatened to abandon the crop and go for other high-value cash crops.

The farmers said vanilla prices have continued to drop every year despite the high costs incurred in growing it. The farmers said they incurred losses in the concluded season because of the low demand for the crop.

Rodgers Kule, a vanilla farmer in Ntoroko district stressed that in the previous season, farmers fetched Shs 50,000 per kilogramme of vanilla beans, which encouraged more farmers to venture into growing the crop.

He however revealed that this year, the price dropped from Shs 50,000 to Shs 7,000, causing farmers to incur losses.

“Vanilla is one of the crops that is too expensive to grow because you invest in a lot of money, ranging from buying seedlings and guarding it to the last hour of harvest. We made more losses when the Ministry of Agriculture set unfavourable date for harvesting,” Kule said, adding that the crop rotted before it could be harvested.

The Ministry of Agriculture officially set July 17, as the harvesting date for vanilla across the country. However, farmers argue that this date was delayed and the ideal time would have been June.

Kule told this reporter that he has decided to abandon the crop and go for maize because it is flexible and its harvest is not dictated by the ministry.

“We were supposed to start harvesting in June not July. Next time before the minister makes such an announcement, he should consult farmers to see if their gardens are ready,” he said.

Margret Biira, a farmer who said this was her first season, had 2,500 plants of vanilla and had injected Shs 2.5 million in buying seedlings and over Shs 2mln to look after the garden but nearly earned nothing from the harvests.

“Most of my vanilla beans rotted from the garden; I didn’t even harvest 100 kilogrammes, which disappointed me. This was a very big loss to me since it was my first time venturing into growing the crop. I will now go for cocoa which currently fetches Shs 11,000 per Kilogramme,” Biira said.

Dora Natugonza, a vanilla farmer in Karugutu Sub-county Ntoroko district said she had anticipated harvesting 300kgs but to her disappointment, she harvested only 87kgs, and about 60kgs were rejected by the buyers.

“I have now decided to resort to growing maize because other people who planted maize are selling at a better price than me. I want to engage in maize growing so that I can get money to pay debts,” she said.

Farmers said if they are to remain in the vanilla business, government should give them assurance that the prices will stabilise above Shs 50,000 per kilo.

They said most of them had acquired loans from financial institutions expecting to pay back after harvest but it is now hard for them to pay back the loans.

Vanilla is mainly grown in the central region and the Western Kasese and Bundibugyo districts bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo by small-scale farmers. Because the crop is vulnerable to pest and fungal infections, most farmers are reluctant to take up its cultivation.

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