Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vanilla beans and coffee flowers

It's the end of the rainy season here, and the beginning of the hot, dry season.  At least, it is supposed to be.  All of the farmers I work with are a little worried about the local climate, as droughts have been abnormally strong in the last couple of years,   and the current rain didn't end as it was supposed to in December.  Right now it is hot with the occasional rainstorm making it over the heights of Mount Elgon - Mbale is in a sort of rain shadow in respect to the storm systems that come from that direction, but it also gets rain that sneaks around the mountain and comes from the north.  The point is that it should be hot and dry here, it seems that the weather is in limbo, and everyone who depends on agriculture is feeling a bit uncertain.
The good thing is that the coffee is flowering wonderfully, as it should this time of year.  East African coffee is unique in that it actually flowers, and thus harvests, twice per year due to the region's bimodal rainy season; Latin American coffee, by contrast, only has one flowering season, and thus harvests once per year.  Driving down the road through Namanyonyi Subcounty where I work, the air is filled with the scent of the coffee flowers, which closely resembles the perfume of honeysuckle, and the coffee trees are blushing white, full of blossoms.  It is beautiful, and should result in a great "fly" harvest, which is what the smaller second harvest in March-April is called.

At the same time, Peace Kawomera Cooperative has been collecting vanilla beans from its members for the last three weeks, and processing is in full progress.  Vanilla is an incredibly delicate and complex crop to process.  The fresh green beans must be boiled, and then put through a drying process that involves the beans laying in the sun every day and then resting folded up in wool blankets every afternoon and night, for as many days as it takes for the the beans reach the proper stage of dryness for export.

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