The spice is right

11.11.2019 - Article

Entrepreneur Rudolf Bühler had a problem: To manufacture quality products such as his authentic regional speciality sausages, he needed high-quality exotic spices. They were difficult to come by on the German market, but then he found what he was looking for in Zanzibar, writes develoPPP.de.

Rudolf Bühler
Rudolf Bühler© develoPPP.de

Entrepreneur Rudolf Bühler had a problem: To manufacture quality products such as his authentic regional speciality sausages, he needed high-quality exotic spices. They were difficult to come by on the German market, but then he found what he was looking for in Zanzibar. With the help of German Investment Corporation (DEG), he was able to find local partners willing to produce, process and certify organically grown spices. DEG supported Bühler through the develoPPP.de-programme run by German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).  

In 1997, Bühler and four other farmers set up Ecoland, an organisation that promotes the development of organic agriculture worldwide.  One of the areas it focuses on is organic spices – Ecoland Herbs & Spices GmbH aspires to deliver spices and herbs of exceptional quality.“We are targeting the modern, informed consumer who wants high-quality fair-trade produce for health as well as other reasons,” explains Buhler.

To meet growing demand from his increasingly sophisticated clientele, Bühler needs access to large quantities of organically produced seasonings. However, these spices are difficult to find on the German and European markets – plants like cloves and pepper grow predominantly in the countries of the global South. Virtually no crops there are grown to European organic standards, nor is there an inspection and certification system.  Rudolf Bühler needed to find a solution.

One of his former interns, Ramadan Othman, had the answer. While working for Bühler’s SME in Wolpertshausen, Germany, Othman told him that spice-growing has a long history in Zanzibar. Until the late 1960s, Zanzibar was famed for its cloves, which met 90 percent of global demand. However, when Tanzania gained its independence, many plantations were nationalised.

Today, the country’s clove harvest commands less than ten percent of the global market. “The farmers in Zanzibar harvest very high quality produce,” says Othman. “They just don’t have access to the market. So we thought that if we helped them, they would be able to tap into the German market and improve their situation – and in return, we would get access to top-quality spices”.  In Zanzibar, agriculture has not yet been modernised and everything is harvested by hand, so conditions there are actually ideal for introducing organic certification.

Bags of spice.
Bags of spice.© develoPP.de

Organic cultivation also has the potential to raise small-scale farmers’ living standards. These farmers mainly practise subsistence farming and earn only a small income from the sale of their spices. “Small-scale farmers are dependent on middlemen and are often cheated out of their harvest,” explains Buhler. It did not take long for Bühler to warm to the idea of importing spices from Zanzibar.

But how should he go about contacting the local small farmers? And how could he ensure organic certification in accordance with EU rules? Bühler embarked on a development partnership with DEG, facilitated by the develoPPP.de programme. Together, the partners were able to get a local organisation on board – Zanzibar Organic Spice Growers (ZOSG) – which gave Bühler & Co. direct access to its small family farms.

As an organic farming cooperative, ZOSG’s long-standing experience in organic cropping provided a solid basis for meeting EU standards. Within three years, Bühler, in cooperation with his partner in Zanzibar and DEG, successfully rolled out organic certification for spice cultivation in line with EU requirements on the island. The farmers comply with the rules for organic cropping and, in return, Bühler agrees to buy their produce. “Instead of charity, my partners get good prices. That’s true cooperation on an equal footing,” says Buhler. To ensure that the spices produced are organic, a certification unit has been set up at the local Ministry of Agriculture. In fact, former intern Ramadan Othman is now in charge of certification. Twenty-one farms already have organic status and have joined Bühler’s producer organisation. A further nine members are in the process of obtaining organic certification.

Rudolf Bühler and Ramadan Othman
Rudolf Bühler and Ramadan Othman© develoPP.de

Foum Ali Garu, who heads Zanzibar Organic Spice Growers (ZOSG), explains that in the past, it made no difference to prices whether or not the crops were grown organically. Now things have changed. “Thanks to Ecoland, we now have access to a market where consumers explicitly demand organic products. And that means we can charge considerably higher prices.” Indeed, access to the European market has boosted incomes by around 50 percent.

Many small farming families are now better able to meet important expenses, such as school fees for their children. “The spice project in Zanzibar is an ideal combination of development policy impact and entrepreneurial endeavour,”concludes Peter Peters, develoPPP.de programme coordinator at DEG. The members of the new producer association attended regular information events to receive training from German experts in organic cultivation methods.  Two local field advisors were also trained to assist the farmers with achieving certification and with standards compliance.

To anchor organic know-how in the region in the long term, the partners also built up relationships with the Kizimbani Agricultural Training Institute (KATI), the only one of its kind in Zanzibar. KATI is training more field advisors with a focus on organic farming, quality assurance, marketing and certification.

To make post-harvest work more efficient, Ecoland and DEG set up a processing centre where they double-check the quality of the spices and prepare them for shipping. This centre is made up of storage halls, an office and a laboratory. A mobile solar-powered dryer has also been installed.

The project measures are beginning to show results. Foum Ali Garu is delighted: “Now there is even competition between the farmers. Everyone wants to produce the best quality.” Each year, tonnes of cloves, cinnamon and vanilla from Zanzibar are sent to Ecoland’s site in Wolpertshausen.  Named “seeds of hope” by Rudolf Bühler, they are marketed by German retailers.

Zanzibar Spice and Heritage Centre
Zanzibar Spice and Heritage Centre© develoPP.de

Bühler knows that this success is the result of many people’s efforts. “Without develoPPP.de, the project would not have been possible. We have limited resources, and setting up quality assurance systems, training courses and advisory services isn’t something we could have done on our own. But thanks to support from develoPPP.de, we have been able to do it.”

The unique taste and high quality of Bühler’s speciality sausage products is assured, and Bühler himself is delighted. “We have access to outstanding natural spices of a quality that is not otherwise available on the market here. And our products tell a story, which helps us to position ourselves at the top end of the market.”

Things are looking good in Zanzibar, too – Foum Ali Garu and the producer association are already forging new plans. At the moment, the spice experts are preparing for organic certification according to Demeter International criteria, which are amongst the toughest in the world.


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