Tracking Vanilla In Tanzania

At Natural Extracts Industries, Ltd. we are proud of the high-quality standards we have set for sustainable vanilla production in Tanzania.  Each year we strive to improve the processes from planting, cultivation, pollination, harvesting, purchasing and finally the curing.  How vanilla from other countries comes to market has been the target of mystery and sometimes even stories of farmer exploitation.

So, now more than ever it has become important to track the source of vanilla we collect from our farmers to provide added transparency and accountability into the supply chain of our vanilla.  As we move to certify farms producing organic vanilla, it will provide additional assurances that our farmers continue to be paid fairly and ensure certified farms continue to use best practices.

Aarti Mahajan, who joined the NEI team to lead the initiative to deploy an ICT platform, called Source Trace,  to our farmer network says, “Source Trace provides complete visibility of our vanilla from the farm to our factory.  The ease of use of the interface allows us to distribute tablets with the Source Trace application to our lead farmers.  Source Trace is a powerful tool that allows the NEI team to access real-time data anytime from anywhere in the world.”

Working with partners like Source Trace provides NEI with the forward-looking technology that will continue to make us a leading provider of the highest quality vanilla available on the world market.

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What Do Seaweed and Vanilla Have in Common?

Depending on the time of day you are relaxing on the shores of Paje, Zanzibar you may see some very different settings.

When the tide is high, the beach feels busier. You can hear music from a close by restaurant, waves crashing and children playing. The water may come up to only a few meters away from your beach towel, and to your right, you can see dozens of kite surfers!

When the tide retreats the beach is a whole new place. People leave the beach to find their hotel pools, and the atmosphere becomes peaceful and calm. You no longer hear the waves because the water is so far away. You can walk 40 minutes out into the ocean, where the water would have once been as high as your shoulders.

Among this peacefulness, you will notice something strange out where the water was once a few feet deep. Perfectly lined sticks poke up from the sand. seaweed-farm

This is where the Seaweed Center grows their seaweed! When the tide is low, they are able to go out and collect the Eucheuma Spinosum, the particular type of red seaweed used in their very special products! The seaweed has many natural health benefits like antioxidants, antibacterial and antiviral properties, high levels of vitamin E, as well as being a natural source of collagen.

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The Seaweed Center uses the seaweed to make soaps, body scrubs, body oils and even juice. (The scrubs smell heavenly!)You can stop by their beautiful store/production facilities to buy their products or get a tour! You get to learn how they make their natural soap and even join them to harvest the seaweed.

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We think the Seaweed Center is excellent because they believe in supporting their community, sourcing organic and local materials in Tanzanian and using high-quality ingredients, just like NEI! They began 2013, and they have lots more plans for the future!

Check out their Facebook and definitely drop by to see them if you are in Zanzibar!

 

Creating Shared Value Nestle Award!

This past July, the NEI team had the pleasure of attending the Nestlé Global Forum ceremony (which was held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, but broadcasted in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania) as a feature for the winning prize: Creating Shared Value 2016.

With a goal of investing in sustainable development in Africa, Nestlé Global comes together yearly by bringing together businesses, civil society and government leaders from Africa to discuss key topics affecting the continent. As a part of this Forum, an award entitled ‘Creating Shared Value’ is awarded and of the 400 African social enterprises, only two were granted the prize; Natural Extracts Industries Ltd. of Tanzania being one of them.

Essentially, the goal was to help lead nutrition and health through collaboration, understand the needs of smallholder farmers, implement responsible sourcing in supply chain and address gender balance in the workforce, amongst many other aspects of development. It is therefore, a wonderful accomplishment for NEI to receive such recognition! Bravo!

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Jeanne Bruns – VP of Business Development and two of NEI’s Champion Farmers at the Nestlé 2016 Global Forum in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

 

Farming Vanilla

So we told you all about the vanilla plant last week but do you know how vanilla fits into farming? It is the reason we at Natural Extracts Industries are so excited to be partnering with Tanzanian farmers to introduce it to their farms!

The smallholder farmers we work with grow lots of other things on their farms like bananas, coffee or sugar cane. Vanilla is planted between and around these existing plants because it doesn’t need a lot of space and it enjoys the shade! In the picture you can see how the vanilla vine is planted below a banana plant. This is called intercropping and it is great for the farmer and the environment in many ways!

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Intercropping allows the farmer to produce a greater yield from their farms and earn extra income, this also makes it a smart environmental practice. Vanilla needs the shade of larger plants to grow, this means planting it discourages deforestation. That’s good news because many of the farmers we work with live on the edges of national parks. The environmental buffer zones around the parks are preserved because of the vanilla and Tanzania’s wildlife is better off!

So now you can see why we love farming vanilla! It is great for everyone involved and the environment! Let us know if you have any more questions about farming vanilla!

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Growing Vanilla

Part of working with Tanzanian smallholder farmers is really understanding the core environmental aspect of what they are doing every day. In the case of vanilla, the whole story often isn’t told! And, by all means, it is actually incredibly interesting!

Originally, vanilla is native to Mexico, where one certain species of bees specializes in it’s pollination. This kind of bee, however, does not exist in Africa (or anywhere else other than Mexico for that matter). Since no other family of bees, nor butterfly, moth, fly, or hummingbird have been willing to pollinate the vanilla plant – it has been left up to human beings. Therefore, this hand pollination, flower, by flow, is  a very tedious and labour-intensive crop.

Vanilla plants take 2.5 years to start flowering. Once the flower has blossomed, they are hand-pollinated with a tooth pick (from male to female, which are differentiated by one extra petal). Then, the flower shrivels up, the orchid falls and a green vanilla bean grows (in groups like bananas). The plant is a perennial and will continue to flower for approximately 13 years, but it is extremely easy to regenerate them because a whole plant will grow by planting just one vine in the ground, from an older plant.

The Jatrofa tree also plays a huge role in the growth of vanilla. The small tree is planted about 3 months before the vanilla as a support system, as the vanilla vine clings to it and they grow high together as friends, drinking off each other (just like us). The Jatrofa (called ‘Croton’ in English) also produces nuts which are used as a sustainable way to produce biofuel. There are even croton nut pickers who make a living collecting them.

All in all, a very interesting plant!

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