Vanilla in Uganda:
Hope for the poor
Lulu Sturdy was summoned from England to Uganda to be near her uncle in his last days. As his final wish he asked her to take care of his farm. Little did she know that she would not only be willing, but would also find creative ways to be able to fulfill his wish by enlisting the help of local farmers. She gathered fifty into an association of farmers, and soon determined that along with the other more traditional local crops, vanilla might help lift each of them out of dire poverty. Nine years later, the association grew into a fully registered Cooperative Union.
Those fifty farmers have now become over 1,750 and counting, thanks in part to the work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Through a creative listening to farmers, as well as wise insights gained from other parts of the CRS experiences with cocoa and coffee, and with a dogged determination to make a difference, the farmers of the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda and CRS have made a difference.
The ninety person staff of CRS Uganda works with farmers, as well as with South Sudanese refugees, and with vulnerable children in other parts of Uganda. Together they have lifted tens of thousands out of poverty. Some have been able to build a modest brick home on their land, some, for the first time, to send their children to school, and some to save for the future. This was all because of the work of CRS, and because some people cared enough to help.
The farmers’ cooperative is now working to comply with set certification standards for the growth, transport, and sale of vanilla. This will allow for a “fair trade” label. Likewise, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Company has been a reliable partner in this effort, leading the way for “fair trade” in Uganda. Grants from Ben and Jerry’s have helped CRS to champion the cause, and now husbands and wives feel confident that they are better able to care for their children, their land, and their future.
It all began with the dying wish of a man who loved Uganda, his devoted niece who wanted to save a family farm, and fifty farmers who desired to work together to improve their common lot. The Catholic Church, inclined to support the poor, was able to find willing partners, and Her largest worldwide humanitarian aid agency (CRS), under the auspices of the Bishops of the United States, was able to tap into the generosity of American Catholics willing to offer their monetary donations to serve the poor overseas. Thus, one heart touched another, an uncle and a niece, CRS, American Catholics, the US Government, and farmers and friends who collaborated, and the result was some real amazing stories; and as they say, “the rest is history”.
May God always give to the human heart a desire to connect, to collaborate, and to love beyond borders.