Vanilla farmers in Uganda have never had it better, with farm-gate prices standing at about $70 per kilo for the price-sensitive produce.
With a kilo selling at $500 on the world market — a jump from $300 in 2017 — both farmers and dealers are seeking ways of boosting production to satisfy the market.
The Uganda Export Promotions Board said that the country is targeting to export 100 tonnes of vanilla this year, from about 75 tonnes exported last year.
Noah Maalanti, the director of Africaug.com, a vanilla export firm, said the supply cannot match the demand in overseas markets, even as the prices continue to rise.
He said that a drop in the volume of exports registered in early 2014 was due to a fall in global market prices, which forced some farmers to abandon the crop.
“In early 2016, the export price was around $80. By the end of that year, it was around $100 and at the beginning of 2017 it rose to $300; it now stands at $500 per kilogramme. Farmers should start planting more vanilla now,” said Mr Maalanti.
Farmers are upbeat about the current farm-gate price of $70 a kilogramme, compared with less than $1 in 2006.
According to Umar Kityo, a field officer of Mukono Vanilla Growers Association, there is hope that the prices of unprocessed vanilla will shoot to more than $80 per kilo during the harvest season.
In Uganda, vanilla is harvested twice a year— June-July and December-January.
“We are hopeful that the prices will keep going up,” Mr Kityo told The EastAfrican.
He added that their association is now looking at planting more vanilla so that they can match the global demand, and benefit from the high prices.
But Mr Kityo said that thieves have made the business less profitable for farmers. The competitive prices have led to a rise in theft cases; some farmers have had to hire security guards, adding to overhead costs.
Mr Kityo now wants the government to put in place laws that would deter the growing number of vanilla thieves who steal and sell immature beans thus undermining the quality on the market.
In Uganda, districts where vanilla is grown include Kayunga, Mukono, Mpigi, Jinja, Kamuli, Buikwe, Bundibugyo, Luweero and Kasese.
Globally, Madagascar leads in vanilla exports with 1,600 tonnes per year followed by Indonesia and France. Uganda comes in at 12th position with export revenue of $5.7 million, according to the latest (2016) statistics.