A kilo of raw harvested vanilla beans currently brings in a handsome reward of between UGX250,000 and UGX300,000. The crop is so pricey that its farmers spend nights guarding against thieves from getting their hands on the crop. A number of farmers in Mukono district where the crop is widely grown, admit to hiring armed guards to boost the security of their gardens.
Still, this level of vigilance is proving inadequate to deter marauding thieves from carrying out daring attacks and face the armed farmers. kilo of raw harvested vanilla beans currently brings in a handsome reward of between UGX250,000 and UGX300,000. The crop is so pricey that its farmers spend nights guarding against thieves from getting their hands on the crop. A number of farmers in Mukono district where the crop is widely grown, admit to hiring armed guards to boost the security of their gardens.
An attack two years ago (2017) in which five farmers who were guarding their separate farms were gunned down by thieves is a chilling reminder of the danger associated with the growing of the crop.
Joseph Mutebi, a resident of Kalengera village Kojja parish, Ntenjeru sub-county in Mukono district admits that thieves are the biggest threat to the to the industry.
He says that the thieves have forced him to forego sleep whenever the crop matures. This week he accompanied the State Minister for agriculture Christopher Kibazanga to make the case for a harsher punishment against Vanilla thieves.
Mutebi’s counterpart in the business Godfrey Mukasa, adds that he has witnessed numerous attacks by thieves but thanks to his guard and the vigilance of the community members, the thieves have been beaten at their game.
Mukasa, who has grown the crop for the last twenty years recounts that his farm located in Kamwanyi village was attacked by the thieves in 2017 but one of them was killed by a mob. “Unfortunately, the thieves were running and the residents caught one of them and he was killed on spot by mob justice,” recalls Mukasa.
Both Mukasa and Mutebi blame the current punishment of two currency points (equivalent to UGX40,000) as not being a good deterrent measure against Vanilla thieves since they can use the proceeds from selling stolen vanilla to pay their way to freedom.
The farmers say they want to the government to make the punishment against vanilla thieves more stringent from the current six months to a minimum of three years, in addition to increasing the cash penalty.
“I have waited nine months spending sleepless nights in the gardens guarding our crop. How can you tell me that when a thief is caught you only give him a punishment of six months and a cash fine of UGX 40,000?” complained Mukasa.
Stronger laws coming -Commissioner
In response to the farmers’ cries, the Ministry of Agriculture is planning to introduce a Vanilla Bill that will not only increase punishments for thieves but will also streamline the growing and marketing of the crop.
Alex Lwakuba, the Commissioner in the Ministry of agriculture, animal industry and forestry said: “We are setting out to establish a national law which shall be stronger than these ones and soon we shall be tabling the Vanilla bill in parliament so that we protect the farmers.”
Harvest days declared to curb the vice
The State Minister for Agriculture Christopher Kibazanga said that the government has declared June 15, as the official starting date for harvesting season while December 15, will be the closing date.
“Since different regions have different climatic conditions, we have made provisions for adjustment by giving permissions of two weeks earlier and later,” added Kibazanga.
Kibazanga added that they are going to create awareness among farmers and also register them to help organize them. “All this is done to minimize threats and whoever shall be found selling vanilla earlier before the declared date shall face law.”
According to Kibazanga, In 2018 Uganda produced about 300 tones (300,000 kilos) of vanilla and exported 23,000 kilograms of cured vanilla worth USD6.4m. But Uganda’s output remains a tiny fraction (5 percent) of world production. Global consumption of vanilla ranges between 2100 metric tonnes to 2400 metric tonnes over the last ten years. Madagascar is the largest producer in Africa producing between 1500-1800 metric tonnes per year.