Securing vanilla for farmers and development in Comoros

Sep 18, 2017

Maesha ya lavani, the first cooperative on the islands focused on vanilla. A dozen of its members are women. Photo: UNDP Comoros

Nasmata Ahamada Djaé got involved in vanilla production two years ago, although she still works full time at a hospital. 

“My parents never worked in agriculture, and the cooperative has been very supportive,” said Nasmata. “Vanilla is now key to our economy and this is important for my children’s education.” 

Nasmata works in the vanilla field only during the weekends. She is among the 54 members of Maesha ya lavani, the first cooperative on the islands focused on vanilla. A dozen of its members are women. 

Abdillah Mohamed Saïd is one of the founding members of the cooperative, and has been making a living from vanilla since he was a teenager. 

“It was my father who guided me into working with vanilla. I have no regrets, since vanilla has given me salaries way higher than those of civil servants,” says Said.

“Our plots are packed with vanilla; other crops are a minority. I personally grow vanilla, I must have around 10,000 vanilla vines in three quarters of my plot. The other 25 percent has mangos, oranges, coconut, lemons, etc.”

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. The vanilla, ylang-ylang and clove sectors together account for 80 percent of Comoros’ exports and employ 45 percent of the archipelago’s workforce – approximately 123,000 people - placing these sectors at the center of the government’s agricultural policy, and making their promotion a top priority. 

Maesha ya lavani is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Trade Centre (ITC) through a project to improve vanilla, ylang-ylang and clove exports by improving technical and operational know-how of Comorians working in these sectors.

Producer’s cooperatives such as Maesha ya lavani also help promote production of these commodities in line with international quality standards.

The Improving competitiveness of vanilla, ylang-ylang and cloves exports of Comoros project, is supported by financial contributions from the Enhanced Integrated Framework that is focused on using trade for poverty reduction, inclusive growth and sustainable development in Least Developed Countries.

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In September 2016, the Comoros government set up the National Office of Vanilla in the capital Moroni for the economic promotion of the vanilla industry from production, processing and marketing. This also includes skills building for producers and improved conditions for workers.

With UNDP support, the Vanilla Office’s operations kicked off on 17 June 2017 at an event presided over by President Azali Assoumani.

"Our farmers and other actors in the vanilla sector are the true artisans of the development of the Comoros Union and this is not new,” said President Azali Assoumani. “Their hard work has built this country since the 1930s and has made us what we are. We are grateful to them.”

The event also served as the launch day for the 2017 Vanilla Campaign for which the price of green vanilla just after harvest was fixed at approximately US$ 48 (20,000 Comorian francs) per kilogramme. Five kilogrammes of green vanilla produces 1 kilogramme of processed vanilla which sells at about US$ 465.

 “Our support to the Office National de la Vanille includes, among other things, green headquarters with green energy, rolling and technological equipment, office furniture, expertise, an advisor and the costs related to different seminars,” said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Matthias Naab.

Given the importance of vanilla to the Comoros economy, and to help manage climate risks, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are helping to set up vanilla seed fields that will produce 10,000 vanilla vines from October 2017, through the Enhancing adaptive capacity for increased resilience to climate change in the agricultural sector in the Union of the Comoros project.

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