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small scale agriculture
The Pemba Foundation supports Pemba's farmers in several ways: designing and installing small, efficient drip irrigation systems; introducing higher-value crops like passion fruit; and developing vanilla production and export.
Scroll down for more details.

Nassor, left, from Pemba Foundation and Bakar, center, visiting Ali's farm to design his new irrigation system. Bakar received his system in 2014 and now advises other farmers for the Foundation.


Pemba has good farmland, but yields are severely limited by the 6-month dry season.  With abundant groundwater, recharged during the rains, Pemba is an ideal place for irrigated agriculture.  But as domestic water networks develop, groundwater demand is growing fast, so it's essential to use water-efficient drip methods for irrigation.  Most farmers cannot afford to invest in irrigation, and we receive many requests from all over the island for help. 


A Pemba Foundation program helps farmers install drip irrigation: we design systems, provide the materials and advice, and the farmers contribute the labour for well-digging, land clearing and equipment installation.  So far we have designed and installed systems on ten farms.  Most systems use a conventional petrol-powered or electric water pump. We are always on the lookout for pumps that use renewable energy, like an innovative low-tech wind pump designed by EMAS, a Bolivian rural-technology organisation, which we arranged to fabricate locally.  So far though we have not been able to find a system that's as cheap and reliable as conventional pumps.


Our systems use our own design of drip emitters: they're effective, easy to clean and cost much less than commercially available designs. 


In addition to subsistence crops many farms are growing, at our suggestion, passion fruit for cash.  It's a non-traditional crop, and brings good prices in local markets.


The potential of irrigated agriculture in Pemba is demonstrated by the success of Bakar Hamad Said, one of the first farmers for whom we built a drip irrigation system, in 2014. Bakar now harvests 40 kg of passion fruit every 2 days.  Wholesalers come to him to buy at $1/kg, and because his plants are protected from the dry season it's a year-round income.  He's added a watermelon field to take advantage of spare pump capacity, and is building a house on his farm for a worker and family.  Bakar's 3-acre farm before irrigation made about $3/day, which had to support a family of 7 plus 2 dependents, and also help to support extended family members. That income is considerably below the usual poverty line of $1-2/day.  With irrigation, the farm yields $12/day, which lifts Bakar and his family out of poverty. 


Bakar has become a skillful and successful farmer and businessman.  He taught himself how to get the best out of irrigation, and how to market his produce.  Now he's an agricultural adviser in the Pemba Foundation's small business loan program.


We'll continue to install as many drip systems as funding allows -- Pemba could use literally hundreds of small systems like these.


Our irrigation program was founded by a volunteer, Jeroen de Boorder, profiled below.



New vanilla vine
Vanilla is a non-traditional crop for Pemba, introduced to the island by an aid program in the 1990s.  But there were few farmers who were interested in growing this high-value crop. 

Vanilla is a vine that needs good rains during its growing season, warm conditions as the pods mature and a shady forest environment -- just right for Pemba. But it's labor-intensive: outside its native central America, its flowers have to be hand-pollinated, day after day as each one opens. And then after harvest the pods must be cured slowly, a few hours a day for two months. While vanilla pods command high prices, no farmer can risk the time and labor to produce them unless there's the certainty of a market at the end of the process.

In our conversations with the few vanilla farmers who'd continued since the crop's introduction, it became clear that limited markets was the major factor discouraging expansion: Why invest the time and labor needed to produce the crop only to find there are no buyers? 

Starting in 2014 the Pemba Foundation has offered to buy -- at fair prices -- all vanilla that Pemban farmers want to sell, for export to a UK online retailer.  The retailer is a for-profit company with family connections to Zanzibar, and the company is generously prepared to accommodate the prices (a little higher than world commodity prices) that we have to pass on in order to guarantee a fair price to farmers.  But the company can always be sure that the quality is excellent -- Pemba vanilla is some of the best in the world.

The Foundation also awards grants to farmers to plant new vanilla areas, and makes arrangements for experienced vanilla farmers to pass along their knowledge to new farmers.  We are aiming to develop a new source of income for Pemban farmers. 

The vanilla program is co-ordinated year-round by Pemba Foundation executive director Nassor Marhun (profiled below).  Nassor keeps track of the crop as it's grown and cured, takes care of contracts for crop purchases and new planting areas, brings new farmers into the program, and generally acts as the information hub for an expanding vanilla farmers' group.  The program has proved popular: we started with just 2 vanilla farmers, and now at meetings as many as 25 attend.

2019 UPDATE: The Pemba Foundation's vanilla program has been suspended. Because of disruptions in Madagascar, which produces most of the world's vanilla, global vanilla prices have skyrocketed by an unprecedented 3,000% since we began to help Pemba vanilla farmers. Buyers are looking everywhere for vanilla, and Pemba's producers don't need our help any longer. We'll monitor the situation, and may re-start the program if it makes sense.

Profile: agriculture adviser Jeroen de Boorder

Jeroen de Boorder, shown here in the passion fruit grove he started on the Tanzania mainland, created the Foundation's irrigation project. Jeroen is a veterinarian who spent eight years living on Pemba, where he worked on a number of successful agricultural development projects including livestock, beekeeping, and fruit and vegetable farming. Jeroen's wife, Saada, is Pemban and the family, now living in the Netherlands, visits the island frequently. He believes that irrigation is one of the most promising ways for Pemba's farmers to increase yields and incomes. Jeroen advises on irrigation, livestock and -- for the Foundation's business development program -- questions related to small-scale farming.

Jeroen is a volunteer who donates his time to the Pemba Foundation. He speaks Dutch, English, French and Swahili. Reach him at

Profile: Nassor Marhun, Pemba Foundation executive director
Nassor Marhun was born and raised in Wete, one of Pemba's three towns. He was educated in local schools, then took computer courses in Dar es Salaam, on the Tanzania mainland. He returned to Unguja, Zanzibar's largest island, to attend the Zanzibar Institute for Tourism and Development, graduating with a diploma. 

After working for several years in the tourism industry, Nassor became the Pemba Foundation's key Pemba-based administrator, organizer and manager. Based in Wete and working full-time for the foundation, Nassor travels throughout Pemba to check on our projects and manage grants. He stays in touch with vanilla farmers and handles purchasing of their crop; designs and installs irrigation systems on small farms; manages the foundation's construction projects; and works with the foundation's wide network of local volunteers and contacts, in government and the private sector.

Nassor speaks Swahili, English and Spanish. Reach him at