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Building trust with Ugandan vanilla farmers

Supporting smallholders in the agricultural sector not only helps them generate income but also contributes to food security and economic development.

One of the keys to a successful agribusiness is the strength of the relationships it has with its smallholder farmers. That's why vanilla producer Enimiro Products Uganda Limited (Enimiro) is committed to building long-term partnerships with smallholders that create economic opportunity and contribute to the growth of the vanilla sector in Uganda.

Founded in 2019, Enimiro now works with more than 4,000 smallholder farmers. We recently spoke to two of them, Manana Stephen and Naduntu Joweira, who have been working with Enimiro since 2020. 

Farmer Manana Stephen in his vanilla field

Both were already growing vanilla, but Enimiro’s support has enabled them to expand and improve their production. In fact, Manana’s farm has grown from 80 to 240 vanilla vines, and he expects to yield between 100kg and 200kg this year, up from 70kg last year. 

Farmer Naduntu Joweira (left) and Extension Officer Mercy Naigaga (right)

The additional income generated by these harvests can significantly boost farmers’ livelihoods. It will help Naduntu pay for her children’s school fees, renovate her home, and build an animal house: ‘I want my animals to sleep better and eat better’, she says. As her cultivation area expands, she will also hire someone to help her with the harvest. 

Enimiro encourages farmers to grow vanilla and supports those in its network to improve their productivity and growing practices. Extension Officers such as Mercy Naigaga, work alongside smallholders to help them adopt practices that are sustainable both economically and environmentally. 

This is having a wider positive impact. For example, after seeing his father evolving with the company, Manana’s son also started growing vanilla for them, demonstrating the value of establishing trusted relationships with farmers. For Manana, who has seven children, the additional income from vanilla will help him enhance his farm and improve living conditions for his family. 

‘I’d like to thank the CFC for their support to Enimiro, and consequently to us farmers’, he says. ‘Before working with Enimiro, we didn’t have a secure market and we used to sell through traders, who would pay us little money. But Enimiro offers a fixed and sustainable price, and they’ve also helped us get a fence and wheelbarrow to secure and facilitate our activities.’ 

Both Manana and Naduntu mention that theft is a major issue. Farm security and economic security go hand in hand and Enimiro is keen to support both. Like Manana, Naduntu is receiving help to combat thieves and ensure the smooth running of her farm. She will also use the additional income from her vanilla harvest to purchase a protective fence for her field.

By increasing security, more land can be opened for crops. In the past Manana kept his field as bush to put off thieves. Fencing gives him the confidence to grow valuable vanilla plants, as does the knowledge to take care of them which he’s gained from Enimiro. 

With the help of Extension Officer Philip Ssentongo he secured the area and transformed it from bush into a field ready for farming. Training in soil and water conservation techniques, such as trenches and mulching, then helped him grow a healthy crop. Philip also advised on how to create shading for vanilla, which is a crucial technique since, says Manana, ‘vanilla loves shade, but if there is too much, it won’t yield. It needs a balance’. 

The benefits of Enimiro’s operations are rippling through the local community and wider value chain. The company is leading the push to develop a transparent Ugandan vanilla chain with its traceability system, and through community engagement it is ensuring farmers understand the advantages of working with them. This builds the trust smallholders need to continue investing in their farms and boosting their livelihoods, which in turn has a positive impact on their families’ educational and health outcomes.

At the other end of the value chain, the certifications achieved by Enimiro’s products show customers they are genuinely driving local impact and improving smallholder lives. For Enimiro Managing Director, David Wright, the critical part of ensuring this impact is paying farmers on time. That comes down to the availability of working capital, which many agribusinesses in Africa struggle to access and is one challenge our investment can help to overcome. This lack of financing leads to an informal sector, which is prominent across the continent and characterised by delayed payments and increased risks for farmers.

A financial structure that enables timely payments to smallholders is the foundation stone of a business that truly supports them, says David. Enimiro has combined this with direct farmer engagement and a robust traceability system that underpins its activities.

The CFC's investment has been critical in unlocking Enimiro’s potential. Before receiving USD 800,000 in CFC trade finance in 2022, Enimiro had to wait for customer payments before it could pay farmers, which threatened their income security. With timely payments now possible, Enimiro is building farmer confidence, which makes it easier to work together on quality and certification issues. As David explains: ‘It’s important to ensure that farmers trust you as a partner’. 

‘Without the CFC, we wouldn’t be the company we are today. You were the first ones that took the jump, allowing us to become more investment ready with other investors. So, a huge “thank you” for all that the CFC has done for the business and the vanilla sector in Uganda’, he adds. 

This kind of investment showcases the power of developing trust throughout a commodity value chain. ‘When there is trust between the parties involved, they are more likely to work together towards common goals, pooling their expertise, knowledge and resources for sustainable development,’ says CFC Chief Operations Officer Nicolaus Cromme. 

By continuing to work together, we hope we’ll soon have more stories like those of Manana and Naduntu to share.

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