Vanilla is a non-traditional crop for Pemba, introduced to the island by an aid program in the 1990s. But vanilla is a demanding crop to grow and was not widely adopted. 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, so its flowers have to be hand-pollinated, day after day as each one opens. And then after harvest the pods must be cured slowly in the sun, a few hours a day for two months. Finished vanilla sells for high prices, but no farmer can risk the time and labor to produce it unless there's the certainty of a market at the end of the process. Yet vanilla has the potential to greatly increase income for any farmer with access to some forested land -- which many Pemba farmers have. And Pemba vanilla is some of the best in the world.
Starting in 2014 the Pemba Foundation has offered to buy -- at fair prices -- all vanilla that Pemban farmers want to sell, for export on a non-profit basis to a UK online retailer. The Foundation also awards grants to farmers to plant new vanilla areas, and makes arrangements for experienced vanilla farmers to pass along their knowledge.
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.
In several recent years weather has reduced the crop, but 2020 has been a success and the Pemba Foundation will export a record amount.
Jeroen is a volunteer who donates his time to the Pemba Foundation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.