MUBUKU MORINGA VANILLA FARMERS ASSOCIATION, Uganda

Mbuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association (MMVFA) is an organization consisting of 14 vanilla producer co-operatives located in Western Uganda.

About Mubuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association

Mubuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association (MMVFA) is located in the Rwenzori region in Western Uganda, at the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This region is largely mountainous, ranging between 700 and 2,500m altitude, and, because of its volcanic soil and high humidity, it offers the right conditions to produce some of the highest quality vanilla in the world.

Despite being suitable for agricultural production, living standards in this region are still very low compared to other parts of the country (notably the centre and south). In particular, this area has a poor road network, lacks clean drinking water, has few education facilities, and has poorly equipped medical centres.

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.

Joseph Mbusa

Chairman of Mubuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association (MMVFA)

Background & Structure

Following the crash of world market prices for vanilla in 2001, many farmers operating in the region were not able to make a living through their vanilla sales and wanted to abandon their crops. MMVFA was set up in 2005 by eight co-operatives joining together to support these farmers. The association was supported by Ndali Estates, a locally based Fairtrade processor and trader, and aimed at helping farmers improve the quality and quantity of their production, strengthen their offer, and find better markets for their produce.

MMVFA has grown constantly through the years and today is made up of 14 co-operatives, reaching 1,255 individual members operating on a total area of around 3,000 hectares. Members of the association are smallholder farmers who own an average of 1.6 hectares of land and grow, along with green and split vanilla, a variety of cash crops like bananas, coffee, beans, maize, and cassava. Despite vanilla being a very labour-intensive crop, individual members mainly use their family labour in the production activities.

Production & Sales

Members of the MMVFA produce approximately 66,600kg of vanilla, two-thirds of which are organic certified. The production is entirely sold locally to Ndali Estates. There, the crop is processed and, subsequently, exported to Europe and the United States where it is used in numerous products, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Fairtrade

For Fairtrade sales, MMVFA is paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price of USD 5.10/kg for conventional and USD 5.60/kg for organic vanilla. In addition, the organization receives the Fairtrade Premium of USD 0.50/kg to invest in community and infrastructure development projects, education projects, and farmers’ capacity building. The Premium is distributed to the 14 co-operatives according to their sales and the projects they intend to undertake. A Premium Committee is elected to provide guidance to the utilisation of these funds.

Fairtrade Premium Projects

The organization invests a substantial part of the Premium in education projects. In 2008, MMVFA funded the construction of the roof of an exam hall at the community-owned Maliba Secondary School located in the Kasese district. Thanks to this investment, students no longer have to walk to other schools to sit their exams. Moreover, since the quality of government schools in the area is relatively low, farmers of the Balimi co-operative have used part of the Premium to pay private school fees. Finally, MMVFA has invested a portion of the Premium in the purchase of six hectares of land for building a boarding school and offices over the next 10 years. 

Furthermore, MMVFA allocates part of the Fairtrade Premium to capacity building and social and economic transformation of its members. With this regard, the organization offers training in agricultural production and aims at empowering the farmers with modern agricultural skills and knowledge in optimal land utilisation. Members are also trained in administration, IT, and marketing skills.

The organization also supports community and infrastructure development projects. Thanks to the Premium, the Karugutu co-operative has set up a pharmacy and is planning to build a clinic. A beekeeping demonstration was also developed by the Izahura Bumate co-operative. This pilot project has great potential given the fact that bees are essential in the pollination of vanilla beans. Other projects include the purchase of a corn mill, the construction of a small office/vanilla store, and the purchase of a motorcycle. MMVFA has also allocated a share of the Premium to the support of the organization. A computer and printer were bought for the MMVFA office with Premium funds and registration books were purchased to help community-based organizations register as co-operatives.

Finally, part of the Premium received by the organization has been used to establish a revolving loan fund to offer micro loans to members. Similarly, the plot of land purchased by the MMVFA is used as collateral to acquire loans from financial institutions for the members.