Mobuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association (MMVFA) is an organisation of 14 vanilla producer co-operatives located in Western Uganda.
Mobuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association (MMVFA) is located in the Rwenzori region in Western Uganda, at the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This region is largely mountainous, ranging between 700m and 2,500m altitude, and, because of its volcanic soil and high humidity, it offers the right conditions to produce some of the highest quality vanilla in the world.
Despite being suitable for agricultural production, living standards in this region are still very low compared to other parts of the country (notably the centre and south). In particular, this area has a poor road network, lacks clean drinking water, has few education facilities, and has poorly equipped medical centres.
When we receive the Fairtrade price for our vanilla, we receive 100% of that money for our work, and we have 100% control over how to use it.Chairman of Mobuku Moringa Vanilla Farmers Association (MMVFA)
Background and structure
MMVFA was set up in 2005 by eight co-operatives joining together to support the many farmers operating in the region that, following the crash of world market prices for vanilla in 2001, were not able to make a living through their vanilla sales and wanted to abandon their crops. The association was supported by Ndali Estates, a locally based Fairtrade processor and trader, and aimed at helping farmers improve the quality and quantity of their production, strengthen their offer, and find better markets for their produce.
MMVFA has grown constantly during the years and today is made up of 14 co-operatives, reaching 1,255 individual members operating on a total area of around 3,000 hectares. Members of the association are smallholder farmers who own an average of 1.6 hectares of land and grow, along with green and split vanilla, a variety of cash crops like bananas, coffee, beans, maize, and cassava. Despite vanilla being a very labour-intensive crop, individual members utilise largely their family labour in the production activities.
Production and sales
Members of the MMVFA produce approximately 66,600kg of vanilla, two-thirds of which are organic certified. The production is entirely sold locally to Ndali Estates. There, the produce is processed and, subsequently, exported to Europe and the United States where it is used in numerous products, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
MMVFA was Fairtrade certified in 2005 with support from Ndali Estates which covered the certification cost with a sales fund set up for this purpose. The organisation’s Fairtrade sales have grown significantly over time: from less than 7,000kg in 2005, to around 66,600kg today (the entire vanilla production). The main contributor to the increase in MMVFA’s Fairtrade sales has been the continuous expansion of the organisation’s organic vanilla production, which now accounts for over two-thirds of the total.
For Fairtrade sales, MMVFA is paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price of USD 5.10/kg for conventional and USD 5.60/kg for organic vanilla. In addition, the organisation receives the Fairtrade Premium of USD 0.50/kg to invest in community and infrastructure development projects, education projects, and farmers’ capacity building. The Premium is distributed to the 14 co-operatives according to their sales and the projects they intend to undertake. A Premium Committee is elected to provide guidance to the utilisation of these funds.
Fairtrade Premium projects
The organisation invests a substantial part of the Premium in education projects. In 2008, MMVFA funded the construction of the roof of an examination hall at the community-owned Maliba Secondary School located in the Kasese district. Thanks to this investment, students no longer have to walk to other schools to sit their exams. Moreover, since the quality of government schools in the area is relatively low, farmers of the Balimi co-operative have used part of the Premium to pay private school fees. Finally, MMVFA has invested a portion of the Premium in the purchase of six hectares of land for building a boarding school and offices over the next 10 years.
Furthermore, MMVFA allocates part of the Fairtrade Premium to capacity building and social and economic transformation of its members. With this regard, the organisation offers training in agricultural production and aims at empowering the farmers with modern agricultural skills and knowledge in optimal land utilisation. Members are also trained in administration, IT, and marketing skills.
The organisation also supports community and infrastructure development projects. Thanks to the Premium, the Karugutu co-operative has set up a dispensary and is planning to build a clinic. A beekeeping demonstration was also developed by the Izahura Bumate co-operative. Despite being a pilot project, this initiative has a great potential given the fact that bees are essential in the pollination of vanilla beans. Other projects include the purchase of a maize mill, the construction of a small office/vanilla store, and the purchase of a motorcycle. MMVFA has also allocated a share of the Premium to the support of the organisation. A computer and printer were bought for the MMVFA office with Premium funds and registration books were purchased to help community-based organizations register as co-operatives.
Finally, part of the Premium received by the organisation has been used to establish a revolving loan fund to offer micro loans to members. Similarly, the title to the aforementioned plot of land purchased by the MMVFA is used as collateral to acquire loans from financial institutions for the members.