Kulanu has been doing farmer development projects since 2002 in an effort to fight poverty in Uganda through the dignity of work, the highest form of mitzvah. Workshops have been sponsored in fruit drying processes, irrigation methods, vanilla curing, organic growing, beekeeping, appropriate rural farm technology, and more.
Our Peace Kawomera coffee project is a success. But Arabica coffee cannot be grown in the low-lying, remote Abayudaya villages of Namutumba and Nasenyi, and so last year Kulanu connected farmers with a strategic partner, African Organic/Amfri Farms, run by Gulzar and Amin Shivji, processors and exporters of high quality organic fruits and vanilla, to develop alternative strategies.
JJ Keki, who is a master farmer, has always immediately utilized every resource from Kulanu’s farmer workshops and, characteristically, had already begun growing organic vanilla, a high value crop. Cantor Mike Stein of Los Angeles (a friend of Rabbi Gershom Sizomu) enters the story with a huge mitzvah: he introduced JJ Keki and African Organic/Amfri Farm to his brother Herb Stein, who owns Natural Flavors, one of the largest purveyors of gourmet organic vanilla in the world. A sample test shipment passed with flying colors. JJ Keki, organizer extraordinaire, then began sourcing a huge order of 22 tons of organically grown vanilla from the Peace Kawomera Farmer Cooperative in the Mbale area for Herb Stein at Natural Flavors, who agreed to pay farmers twice the going market rate! African Organics/Amfri Farm is curing it all in a meticulous 90-day traditional process and says JJ has sourced some of the best vanilla grown in Uganda.
Kulanu was asked to help facilitate this project and is working closely with Mike, JJ, Peace Kawomera manager Kakaire Hatibu, and Gulzar and Amin to insure its success. The Stein family mitzvah, JJ and his cooperative, and African Organic’s hard work have paved the way for a major new enterprise. On the basis of this work, JJ and his cooperative board at Peace Kawomera have been able to expand and welcome Namutumba and Nasenyi, the poorest distant villages, into the Peace Kawomera Farm Cooperative family to grow organic vanilla (it takes three years for vanilla plants to mature to first harvest), peanuts, and other crops that will be brokered by Peace Kawomera Cooperative for sale in local and export markets.
Mazal tov to Abayudaya leader JJ Keki, a brilliant farmer and a Moses to his people, and to all the Peace Kawomera interfaith farmers, to the Steins, and to Gulzar and Amin at African Organics. Thanks to them, Kulanu supporters have the hope of one day in the future seeing an end to the grinding poverty that has gripped Abayudaya farmers and their neighbors for so long. May it be so in our lifetime!