As vanilla prices continue to soar in Sironko and surrounding districts in Bugisu Sub-region, farmers are reeling in frustration due to rampant theft.
The farmers have now resorted to hiring security guards, each at Shs300,000 per month to protect their gardens
Farmers say because of the soaring vanilla prices, thieves harvest immature beans. Currently, a kilogramme of vanilla costs Shs300,000, up from Shs200,000 last year.
Mr Abbas Ahmed Madoi, a resident of Buwodada Lower Village in Buteza Sub-county, says he lost more than 500kgs of vanilla to thieves between December and January.
"I did not harvest anything despite the time and resources I injected in. The thieves used to come at night and steal immature vanilla beans but now, I have been forced to hire a security guard in order to minimise theft," Mr Madoi says.
"I have reported to police on several occasions but we managed to get the thieves using a sniffer dog and all the cases are still pending," he says.
Mr Robert Mulekwa, another farmer, says hiring security guards is costly but paying off. The loot is reportedly heaped in sacks and sold to buyers from Kampala.
"It has become a risky venture because of thieves, who impersonate as owners of our gardens and sell our vanilla to buyers from Kampala at a cheap price of not more Shs100,000 [per kilogramme]," he says.
Mr Alex Wobusa, a leader of vanilla farmers, says theft is frustrating farmers yet the profitable crop can help to eradicate poverty in households.
"Farmers are making serious losses and this might force them to abandon the venture," he says.
Mr Wobusa says last season, they had planned to harvest 2,500kgs of the crop in the whole district but due to theft, they only harvested 178kgs.
Ms Saphina Madoi, the leader of vanilla farmers in Elgon region, says two cases of vanilla theft are reported to police every week, especially in Buteza and Bufupa sub-counties.
The district police commander, Mr Fredric Bagende, acknowledges the problem of vanilla theft.
"It is true vanilla theft is rampant but we have instituted collaborative security measures with farmers to curb it," he says.
Mr Robert Nabenti, the assistant chief administrative officer, during a district security meeting on vanilla last week, said they are determined to protect farmers against theft.
Mr Herbert Mulekwa, the district chairperson, says they will pass a by-law to protect and promote vanilla growing and harvesting.
"As a district, we pledge full support to protect farmers from impersonators and also to ensure improved quality and quantity as well," he says.
The RDC, Mr Moses Wamoto, says his office will work with police to guarantee farmers security, saying theft is a sign of backwardness in the community.