Vanilla is a crop that is seldom grown in Kenya. However, a farmer in Mwapala, Kwale County, is reaping big from the crop, that fetches as high as Sh25,000 a kilo.
“I ventured into vanilla farming in 2018, and this will be my fifth year growing vanilla,” says Andrew Simiyu, who owns Kusini Farm.
“I stumbled upon it while conducting research on the most lucrative plants one can grow here in the tropics, and quickly realised it grows in places with similar weather conditions as ours.”
He says that it cost him Sh250,000 capital since the crop was imported. Nevertheless, he reveals that it is now cheap to start as vines are easily accessible.
He started growing the crop on one acre, then expanded to two acres, and he intends to increase the acreage to ten.
“Vanilla requires shade and support to thrive; therefore, I took advantage of the trees that are available in the farm such as mango trees and cashew nut trees,” says the father of one.
He started with 1,000 vines but lost half the crop due to lack of experience and extreme drought. He, however, later recovered and now, he has about 3,000 vines.
Currently, the farmer sells vanilla vines at different prices depending on size. He sells a 60cm-80cm cutting at Sh150, one metre cutting at Sh300 and one and a half metre cutting at Sh500.
“The longer the cutting, the faster it will reach maturity. For 60-80cm cutting, it will take two to three years,” says the farmer, who grows a variety known as vanilla planifolia.
For me, it takes two years to mature and another six months to bear fruits after flowering, but the duration to maturity depends on the length of cutting/vine. The longer one, let’s say one and a half metre, matures faster than shorter ones,” says Mr Simiyu.
Before he ventured into vanilla farming, he did a lot of research and travelled to several places in order to get firsthand knowledge of the crop.
The main challenge he faced at the beginning was mainly lack of water, especially given that the county suffers extreme dry spells. Also, he says that vanilla is labour-intensive during planting and pollination, which is done by hand and not by bees.
Akilo of treated vanilla goes for Sh25,000, the farmer says.
“We are selling our beans locally and in most cases, clients contact us from recommendations. Here in Kwale County, we sell some of our produce in Diani Beach, where there are hotels, resorts and tourists,” adds the farmer.
“Vanilla farming is very rewarding and I highly encourage those who have available land and a passion for farming to take it up. It will definitely change you and your family's life. It is also a long-term venture as the plant can keep producing up to ten years or more with good management,” says the 35-year-od.
The farmer adds that in the near future, he intends to expand his capacity to ten thousand plants, to produce enough for export and for sale locally.
“Also, to set up a vanilla training facility at our farm for other farmers to come and learn from,” he reveals.
Vanilla is used to add flavour to drinks such as yoghurt. The produce is also used to make some medicines.