By Prudence Minayo
Vanilla farming is a rarity in Kenya and isn’t what most people think of growing when they venture into farming. This is in spite of the fact that the crop is the leading flavoring in the world with most industries using real vanilla beans in their yogurt, desserts and ice cream recipes. While some substitute it with synthetic vanilla, it is very difficult to reproduce a recipe with real vanilla beans for an artificial one. Andrew Simiyu found a goldmine in this crop and he has since never looked back. A kilogram of vanilla Planifolia, the kind that Andrew grows, fetches Sh25,000 per kg.
Here is the entrepreneurial journey of Andrew Simiyu as told by WoK.
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Venturing into Vanilla farming
When Andrew Simiyu decided to grow vanilla, he conducted a lot of studies and visited many places where the crop is grown. This enabled him to get first hand experience. He then invested Sh250,000 to kickstart the venture since he had to import the plant.
“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 told Business Daily.
The owner of Kusini Farm started the venture in 2018 and he is now in his fifth year growing the crop.
He began by growing 1000 vines in his one acre farm. Since the plant requires shade and support to develop, he made use of the mango and cashewnut trees around the farm. Unfortunately, he ended up losing half of the vines because of lack of water. It takes a period of two years for the plants to mature and about six months for them to form fruits.
Despite the loss, he continued to press on and has increased his vines to 3000 by mid this year. He hopes to increase this to ten acres. The farmer told Business Daily that the longer the vine, the faster it will mature and vice versa.
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He sells a vine measuring 60cm-80cm at Sh150 and a 100cm one for Sh300.
As for the vanilla beans, he sells them around Kwale county and in the resorts and hotels around Diani.
His future plans involve increasing the vines to 10,000 so as to produce adequate crops for both the local and international market. The 35-year-old also dreams of setting up a vanilla training facility to enable interested farmers gain knowledge.
“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,” Andrew told Business Daily.