Gren vanilla beans ready for harvest. They are identified by the pale skin and the yellowing on the tips. Photo courtecy.
Vanilla is one of the orphaned crops by Kenyan farmers yet according to experts the crop can fetch a farmer over sh16,000 per tree if well taken care of. This is because it has a wide areas of application that include flavouring food, drinks, soaps, ointments, perfumes and incenses.
A tree of vanilla can bear up to 80 beans. Only one vanilla bean measuring 10-12 centimetres long goes for Sh200 and given an acre can accommodate over 200 trees, a farmer can be sure of raking Sh3.2m within three years after planting.
“Vanilla has huge monetary value attached to it despite the fact that it is not famous among our own farmers. The crop is well grown in other countries such as Uganda, Comoros and Madagascar in both small and large scale,” said Shabbir Burbar, director of Maimun Ingredients Company which deals in food flavours, food colour, food-grade ingredients and additives for manufacture of food and drink products.
“Farmers may be shying away from the crop because of the duration it takes to mature but most parts of Kenya have the right condition for its cultivation and there is both local and export markets ready upon its maturity.”
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According to Burbar, the major export markets for vanilla beans include European countries and the United States though the demand depends on the quality.
“Since 1990s I saw my uncle import vanilla from Madagascar or Uganda but Madagascar vanilla was his favourite because it is of quality than the Ugandan vanilla,” said Burbar.
Vanilla can also be used in baking and dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, and ice creams, and in desserts, chocolates, cookies, pancake and soft cheese.
There are several companies and suppliers in Kenya such as Noble Cause Enterprises in Nakuru, Signature Spice, Katco Ltd in Nairobi, Dahiraan Enterprises Ltd and Risola Foods among others which were dealing in vanilla about 16 years ago but were forced to close up or change to other lines of business due to low supply from farmers.
“I decided to focus on honey production and supply after dropping vanilla several years back because there were less vanilla farmers who could not meet our supply demand and there were no signs of more farmers taking up the venture,” said Mr. Vincent Labatt, Entrepreneur and Owner of Noble Cause Enterprises.
“At a point we started importing from Uganda where there is more vanilla farming with the hope that the situation will improve in kenya but we finally decided to stop vanilla business when we found it was no longer economical importing the produce.”
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In October 2015 Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) launched programmes to increase vanilla seedlings, which were scarce, using tissue culture technology. The move was expected to attract more farmers in hot and humid areas like the Coast, lake regions and parts of western Kenya to take up the business.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, after saffron, due to highly labor-intensive methods of cultivation according to a Ugandan news journal.
Vanila plant with green vanilla beans. Photo courtecy.
In 2000 world vanilla prices experienced a massive spike after acyclone which affected the production of the crop upping vanilla prices to nearly $500 (about Sh50,000)a kilo and led to a rush of new market entrants hoping to take advantage of the now lucrative crop but the price later dropped to as low as $25 (about Sh2,500) a kilo in 2010.
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Currently, vanilla prices are increasing again due to drought, fungal attacks and low prices driving many producers out of the market.
An article by the Financial Times on 24th April 2017 revealed that Vanilla Pods were trading at an All Time High price of $600 (about Sh60,000) per Kilogram.
According to an article published in March 2018 by The Globe & Mail, Vanilla prices hit another historical high of USD700 (about 70,000) per Kg mark.
The other orphaned crops silkworms, palm tree and specialty teas.