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supporting vanilla farmers: help with new planting and crop marketing
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 guaranteed 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.  So we are gradually developing 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 extremely popular: we started with just 2 vanilla farmers, and at the most recent farmers meeting that we hosted, 25 attended. 


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 each year; visits the farms that use foundation-provided irrigation systems; designs and installs new irrigation systems; manages the foundation's construction projects (like public toilet buildings); 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