Established in Uganda in 2002, Gourmet Gardens is looked upon as the largest supplier of Fairtrade vanilla in East Africa. The surrounding rain forest provides the ideal climate to produce organic and Fairtrade vanilla and cocoa with a highly distinctive aroma. It also has been said that the bird's eye chillies grown there are the hottest in the world.
The company aims to be 'renowned for outstanding products that are produced in harmony with nature and in a sustainable and fair relationship with the local producers.'
Gourmet Gardens has a 20 hectare plantation near the Virunga National Park, just over the border from Uganda. They also work closely with a group of 1,000 local farmers called Le Jardin Bio Equitable. The actual production area is located on the bend of a river that offers some protection from potential violence.
During the years of war, Uganda's people and economy suffered extensively. Though relative peace has returned to the area, most of the large workforce is still unemployed. Agriculture remains one of the worst hit sectors, which has always been the lifeline for most of the population.
Shared Interest provides Gourmet Gardens with a credit facility to manage cash flow during harvesting and processing season. The farmers need to be paid at harvest but buyers of their products usually send payment after their items have been shipped and received. In the case of vanilla it can often take up to 12 months from harvest to sale. Shared Interest is able to help fill this gap thanks to its investors.
Operations Manager Dr Clemens Fehr said: "The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is not an easy place to work. Being land-locked, businesses face the challenge of high transport costs. The situation is aggravated by a long and devastating civil war. Furthermore, there is little trust in the country and its financial institutions.
"Establishing and running an organic and Fairtrade certified farmer group within such a context is challenging.
"However, over the years we have found ways to deal with most of these challenges. The exception remained access to adequate finance.
"We believe that the support of Shared Interest will help to overcome this last key bottle neck in our business, to the benefit of the members of the farmer group and our company.
"From the coming season we will be able to buy the whole vanilla crop of the project members and will be able to assure timely payments."