The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal industry and Fisheries has declared a one week for Vanilla harvesting starting from January 15th, 2020 as opposed to the earlier declared date of December 15, 2019.
While addressing the press earlier at the media centre, Christopher Kibanzanga, the Minister of State for Agriculture said that the changes have been enforced after consultative meetings with key actors and that enforcing the right harvest dates has proven to be an effective measure in guaranteeing high vanilla quality.
“It is a well established fact that Vanilla becomes fully mature at 9 months after pollination, by which time the vanillin content is high enough for farmers to harvest and attract good international buyers.” Kibanzanga said.
He asserted that, “On the basis of our consultations with key vanilla chain actors ( exporters, farmers and district production staff), we wish to make adjustments in the harvest dates for the second season.
He highlighted the factors that forced the changes in harvest dates including among others the changing weather patterns.
“Due to changes in weather patterns, such as late rains and therefore late pollination across all the key vanilla producing regions in Uganda, stakeholders further observed that the bulk of vanilla for the next season would start ripening around the second week of January, 2020, as opposed as earlier declared of December 15, 2019.”
Kibanzanga sent out a strong warning to everyone who will temper with harvesting vanilla before the declared dates and the punishment they are liable to get.
“Anyone found harvesting or in possession of vanilla before the declared date will be dealt with by the government accordingly. Farmers are required to pick only mature ripe vanilla beans. We will work closely with the private sector to further popularize this new harvest date.” He noted.
It should be recalled that on May 21st, 2019, the Agricultural Ministry for the first time in several years made a national declaration for Vanilla harvest dates as June 15th for the first season and December 15th for Season 2.
The measure was taken as a tool to guide farmers on the right time to harvest their vanilla and hence reduce premature harvests, curb theft and ensure that good quality vanilla is exported from Uganda.
In the process, the ministry says they have observed a positive impact on the overall quality of Uganda’s Vanilla which was harvested, cured and exported during the June/July 2019 harvest season.
Vanilla demand on market
The Agriculture ministry notes an increasing demand for all-natural and organic vanilla from major global food companies especially in Europe and North America citing an example in 2015 when Nestle announced a major plan to go all-natural for all their products and eliminate artificial additives.
Global consumption of vanilla has averaged between 2,100 Metric Tones (MT) to 2,400 MT per year over the last 10 years. However, the most recent market trends indicate that supply from the key producing countries including Madagascar, Indonesia, Uganda and others is now picking, which, in effect, means that prices will continue to fall in the near future. This is evidenced by the reduced farm-gate prices which averaged UGX 210,000 in the June/July 2019 compared to UGX 250,000 in December 2018. This calls for urgent attention to vanilla quality enhancing measures that will ensure that the farmers fetch a fairly good price.
Kibanzanga said that with these trends, the country has a chance to position as a world leading supplier of quality vanill due to the factors at hand.
“As a country, we have a huge opportunity to position ourselves as the world’s leading supplier of premium quality vanilla, in light of the favorable climate, two crop seasons, good soils and organic or traditional farming practices, which, mostly, entail no usage of synthetic chemicals. This presents a window of opportunity to secure a growing, long-term profitable vanilla sector. On the contrary, the international market for natural vanilla is still under threat due to supply of poor quality vanilla resulting from the premature harvesting and poor processing practices by dishonest actors,” he asserted.
Solutions to diminishing prices
In the face of the upcoming market correction and diminishing prices, there is urgent need to find lasting solutions to the challenges of premature harvesting, theft and resulting poor quality, if their is need to secure the market and enable vanilla farmers to enjoy a sustainable price and continue to grow the crop.
“For Uganda to offer a quality-based value proposition to the market, which ultimately should translate into a sustainable price, we need to committedly ensure an appropriate regulatory framework at the national, district and sub-county levels, which will enable farmers to keep vanilla beans on the vines until maturity.” Kibanzanga noted.
He said, ” Whoever is caught in the act of harvesting premature Vanilla or any form of lowering the quality of Vanilla will be liable to a fine of 2 currency points (Approx. Shs.40,000) or imprisonment for 6 months or both.”
Chariton Namwoza, Executive Director of Association of Vanilla Exporters of Uganda said that they as the operators are behind the adjustment of dates so that they can have quality Vanilla on the market.
“We used to produce over 400MT, but over the years as the market crushed farmers cut down their vanilla plants and the production went down. Now its beginning to pick up, we had 23 MT in 2017-18, last year it was 35 MT and people are continuing to engage more in planting the crop. As demand picks up, at a certain point prices will fall, but when they do the only promise you can get a good price is quality and so we have to embrace it.” Namuwoza said.