MBARARA – Vanilla farmers in Ibanda, Rubirizi, Kasese and Bundibugyo districts are crying foil over the drastic fall of prices for the once highly valued export in the country.
Fabius Mwesigye, a vanilla farmer in Kyeikucu cell in Ibanda municipality while sharing with theCooperator said they are seeking government support for indicative prices.
According to Mwesigye, a kilogramme of vanilla was valued at Shs 550,000 in the pre-Covid-19 period. However, this value gradually decreased to Shs 210,000 in 2021 and worsened in 2022 when the price of vanilla plummeted even further to a mere Shs 50,000 per kilogramme 10 months ago. Presently, vanilla is being sold for between 3,000 and 4,000 per kilogramme.
He said this is the worst season in the history of this cash crop that has forced many in the district to cut vanilla plantings to replace them with bananas and coffee.
Annet Byamukama, a vanilla farmer in Mishangi, Nyakatookye in Bisheshe division, Ibanda municipality also said that she was surprised to get only Shs 100, 000 from her vanilla garden recently.
Byamukama owns 1.5 acres of land and expects to harvest approximately 150kgs of vanilla from his farm. However, even if she manages to obtain the full harvest, she expects to earn only Shs 750,000.
“This amount [Shs750,000] falls short of covering the costs I have incurred, including hiring a guard for seven months at a cost of Shs 100,000 per month. Therefore we appeal to the government to secure for us the market before they think about regulating our harvest time,” she said.
Peter Abaho, the district agricultural officer Ibanda said that his department has no authority over the vanilla market.
“As a district we have already written to the relevant authorities notifying them about the growing challenge but I don’t think the government has a solution for it”
Vincent Arinaitwe, a vanilla farmer in Katerera village, Rubirizi district said government has not done enough to help farmers in marketing.
“They have failed to regulate prices. How do you announce July 17 as harvesting time without declaring the stable prices? I started growing vanilla when a kilogramme was at Shs 300,000, it kept reducing to Shs 200,000, Shs 150,000 and now we are selling a kilo at Shs 5,000,” Arinaitwe says.
He adds that there is a general fall in vanilla prices on the world market due to good harvests from major producing countries such as Madagascar.
“I think farmers shouldn’t lose hope just because of dipping prices. This is not the first time it is happening, but I am sure those with quality vanilla will have leverage,” Arinaitwe says.
According to Sedrack Mugisha, the chairperson Rubirizi District Vanilla Farmers’ Association [RDVFA], the drastic fall of prices is a result of increased global stocks from Madagascar.
“Madagascar which is the dominant country in growing vanilla produced a lot of vanilla after COVID-19 yet the international buyers like USA, Canada, and Germany had not yet fully recovered from the pandemic. And the processors still had a lot in stock, a reason why vanilla in Uganda is flooding the market,” Mugisha explained.
He said that the exporters under their umbrella Association of Vanilla Exporters of Uganda Limited [VANEX] are offering low prices to save farmers from damage at the farm.
“As exporters, we suggested that let there be low prices guaranteed to the vanilla pods such that it can be collected, processed, and kept safely rather than getting spoilt from the plantations for the farmers to lose it all,” Mugisha said.
He asked the farmers to continue growing vanilla as the market stabilises. “I encourage the farmers to patiently continue growing vanilla until the prices stabilise and we start earning big.”
In Rubirizi, during the February-July season, a kilo of vanilla was bought at Shs 5,000.
“In 2016 a kilo of vanilla was at Shs 300,000, then in 2018 it reduced to Shs 200,000 but after the outbreak of Covid-19 we started selling at Shs 50,000 and after the pandemic now has reduced to Shs Shs 5000,” he said.
He appealed to the government to put up a vanilla processing plant in the country for value addition.
RDVFA started in 2005 and now has a total of 1800 active members. “When covid-19 hit, our farmers got disorganised especially when the prices reduced but we are sure that once the market stabilises, prices will normalise” said Mugisha.
The district alone produces a total of 40-45 metric tonnes of vanilla in the main season and 15-20 tonnes in the mini-season.
Speaking to Immaculate Ndagire, the communications and membership services officer for the VANEX revealed that, “Uganda is a free-market economy where the prices are determined by forces of demand. The range has been the same since around 2019. There were also effects of Covid-19.”
“Government can’t have a solution for vanilla dipping prices right now since it is mainly produced for the international market. We are considering the development of cottage industries that use vanilla as a raw material so that farmers can add value and target both local and international markets,” Ndagire said.
The last time the farmers smiled at the bank was in 2018 when the vanilla prices rose to between Shs 250,000 and Shs 300,000 per kilogramme.
“The price boom here in Uganda depends on the climatic conditions in Madagascar. If Madagascar produces are low, then we have better prices here in Uganda because of the demand on the international market,” she added.
VANEX brings together 13 companies that buy, dry, and export vanilla and they are the ones that have always set up stores in different parts of the country to deal with the farmers.
Vanilla is harvested biannually from June to August and December to January.
The majority of Uganda’s premium black gourmet vanilla is exported to European market, while the extract grades are sold to the United States.
In 2020, Uganda exported vanilla worth US$ 13.3 million [about Shs 49 billion].
In Madagascar, vanilla prices are between US$ 394.47 and US$ 455.02 per kilogramme at the start of calendar year 2023, hence a reasonable rise from an average US$ 225 per kilogramme in 2022. 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.
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