The pale yellow flower of the vanilla orchid only lasts a single day, the vine takes three years to first bloom and each flower must be pollinated individually by hand. When the flower falls off the vine, a vanilla pod grows and this how vanilla becomes a part of the beautiful culinary world. The fact that this crop is very labour-intensive, due to the tooth-pick, hand pollination (from male to female, which are differentiated by one extra petal) must not be overlooked. This is why, our currently 1200 smallholder farmers, from the Tanzanian regions of Kilimanjaro, Tanga, Mbeya, Kilombero and Morogoro, are the backbone of our entire social enterprise!
It was our team’s absolute pleasure to visit four of our Farmer Champions; Elbariki, Ruben, Elizabeth and Aishi in the village of Wari (in the district of Machame, Kilimanjaro). These Farmer Champions, of which there are currently forty farmers, are the leverage point for NEI’s interactions with smallholder farmers, as they are the most experienced in what they harvest. Depending on their crops, they specialize in the growth of raw products, which NEI then uses to produce natural flavours of vanilla, orange, cinnamon, coffee and cacao. It is also their responsability to manage, train and coordinate approximately thirty to sixty other farmers in their village. It was obvious, immediately upon our arrival in this specific village, that these men and women were the geniuses of their plots, as the vanilla looked healthy, and as luscious as could be. It was also spectacular to see the intercropping on their lands – some of the vanilla vines, which grow on Jatropha trees for support, grew directly beside banana trees – next to coffee plants, sugar cane, Fazoli beans and nyanya chungu (which is Swahili for “bitter tomato” and means eggplant), amongst a variety of other plants, trees and ravishing flowers.
“It must be said that these farmers are as vibrantly full of life as the plants they are caring for – such a beautiful sight to see!”