Skip links

Ndali Vanilla founder

Serendipity landed me, aged 30, on unruly Ndali farm in Western Uganda. I inherited a mixed African farm of bananas, coffee, cattle, alcohol distillation, and 29 families in ramshackle houses that shouldn’t have been there. Outrageously beautiful, it was making a roaring loss.

Ndali farm manager Kato (foreground) and NtonganiNdali farm manager Kato (foreground) and Ntongani

My farm manager is Kato, a small bundle of immense energy without whom I could achieve nothing and who constantly raises my morale and lightens my mood with funny stories. Kato taught me that getting Ndali “right” was a question of good people management and experiment.

We tried, among others, rice, soya, maize, chillies, onions, coffee and bananas. Then I hit upon vanilla. It became my eating, walking, sleeping, talking, love-affair nightmare.

Vanilla was in my bedroom, in the loo, on the window sill, under the sink, in my pockets, stuffed in old socks, wrapped in cooking foil, sweating in containers, soaking in alcohol, strewn on the floor like confetti, and frazzling on the dashboard of my land rover, Be Nicer. My friends say I stink of vanilla.

Looking back, it was two violent incidents that brought me to where I am today. The first was the unexpected death of my uncle, the day after I arrived in Uganda to see him; the second, the attempted murder of my Ugandan farm manager, three years later. The first I came to see as serendipity, the second as rocket fuel. Read full article here.

Banet, Honey the goat and Daudi at Ndali cattle shedBanet, Honey the goat and Daudi at Ndali cattle shed

A guide to Spice, part 2: Vanilla, Food Programme - BBC Radio 4.

A Guide to Spice, part 2: Vanilla, Food Programme –
BBC Radio 4.

Sheila Dillon looks at the modern vanilla trade and meets a young British vanilla grower.

Listen to the radio programme here

Sun drying Ndali Vanilla beans
Go to top of page