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Ndali vanilla farmers

Ndali’s vanilla harvest comes in all shapes and sizes

‘Most of the funds our government uses to run this country (Uganda) come from donors. But if there are people out there who seriously want to help us, the best way you can do this is through paying Fairtrade prices to farmers...’

Weighing it right: vanilla scales in the cocoa plantationWeighing it right: vanilla scales in the cocoa plantation
Sorting Rwenzori's vanilla harvest in the fieldSorting Rwenzori's vanilla harvest in the field
Packing vanilla into sacks for transport to NdaliPacking vanilla into sacks for transport to Ndali

‘… When we receive the Fairtrade price for our vanilla, we receive 100% of that money for our work, and we have 100% control over how to use it; when money comes from donors and charities it trickles from the top-down through so many different hands and administration channels that by the time it reaches us, both the money and its effectiveness have dwindled.’
Joseph Mbusa, Chairman of Rwenzori Farmers Union

Rwenzori Vanilla Farmers from whom Ndali buys its green vanilla for curing are spread out around the foothills of the snow-capped Rwenzoris, meaning ‘Rainmaker’, also known as the Mountains of the Moon, which straddle the equator in the Albertine Rift Valley of Western Uganda, and close to the border of Congo.

Ndali spearheaded the now 2,000 farmer-strong union to gain Fairtrade and organic certification as a serious business proposition for both Ndali Estate and Rwenzori Farmers, since both parties were floundering at the time – Ndali as a loss- making farm in the volcanic explosion crater region of Western Uganda and the farmers as disorganized individual enterprises with erratic and unstable incomes from their vanilla, and a lack of trust in their buyers. Rwenzori Farmers achieved Fairtrade certification in 2005, becoming the first Fairtrade vanilla organization on the African continent.

‘What Lulu has done is very special, in my view. She’s worked extraordinarily hard in the years since she’s been in Uganda, not just to make a success of the business, but above all to improve the lives of hundreds of farmers and their families in the area.

Aid has its role in lifting standards of health and education in Africa, but it is trade that can make a real difference.’

Jack Straw, former Shadow Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain

Conventional market prices (ie non-Fairtrade) can swing violently from season to season for commodities, whereas the Fairtrade price is a set price calculated to give the farmer a decent profit, on top of which they also receive a premium (bonus) to go towards any project they choose within the community.

With the extra cash that the farmers earn from Ndali’s Fairtrade green vanilla purchases, many of them have set up successful second or third business, increasing the virtuous circle. Many are natural, enthusiastic and creative entrepreneurs when given the tiniest window of opportunity: Kibwana Paulo has set up a bee keeping business; Saidi has established a cattle and goat farm selling goat and cows milk to the local community; Kule has bought two motorbikes and hires two friends to ride them as a taxi service, transporting people and goods around the region; Abia has set up a tailoring business, and Mrs Bernerd has established a village shop selling everything from fizzy drinks, flour, lollipops and batteries to goat rope, paraffin and nails.

Ben and Jerrys who buy Ndali Vanilla by the tonne for their ice cream and who have been indispensible partners of Ndali Vanilla and Rwenzori Farmers since our inceptions, were inspired to make some short films about farmer entrepreneurship. We had tremendous fun taking the team to meet our farmers. Watch here

Through the Fairtrade premium funds paid by Ndali to Rwenzori Farmers since 2005, the group has bought 9 acres of beautiful land at the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains; on top of this they have established a pharmacy, roofed a school, bought a maize milling machine, set up their own office with equipment and established bee-keeping projects. They have paid for scholarships to study and given grants for urgent medical operations.

Rwenzori Farmers shares an intimate trading relationship with Ndali Estate, and regularly holds meetings with Ndali to air their views and make improvements on Ndali’s system of buying vanilla from them, and vice versa. Complaints, frustrations and joys are readily and easily shared between the two. Meanwhile Ndali invites Rwenzori members to its processing unit to learn and watch the whole curing method – inspiring a greater responsibility, understanding and pride in the harvest. As a result Ndali-Rwenzori’s vanilla is without doubt some of the strongest in the world.

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