Farmers reaping from vibrant macadamia trade

19th Feb, 2020
Farmers reaping from vibrant macadamia trade

Peter Ngige, a macadamia farmer tends to his crops at Gikondi Village in Mukurwe-ini. Ngige has decided to go for macadamia instead of coffee due to its high returns.PHOTO: KIBATA KIHU

On her quarter-acre farm in Murang’a, central Kenya, Jane Njeri has three ageing macadamia trees planted over two decades ago.

She had over the years seen the trees grow and age without bene?ting from them, which are mainly saved for occasional cutting of their branches for ?rewood.

Every November to February, the trees would drop their nuts on the farm and they would rot away until the next season when the cycle would continue.

But that was then, today the trees are among the most precious crops on her farm, which she guards jealously.

This is because several companies buy the nuts and export them to Europe, America and other parts of the world.

“They come for them from the farm and then pay us at between 100 shillings and 200 shillings a kilo depending on the season. The nuts are in big demand that is why I have planted new trees,” she said in a recent interview.

The surging global market for the nuts has revived across the east African nation the growing of the crop that over the years few cared about.

From Bungoma in western Kenya to Murang’a, Meru and Kirinyaga in central to Taita Taveta at the Coast, macadamia is the cash crop of the moment for many farmers.

The revival of the crop is coming at a time when fortunes of Kenya’s traditional cash crops namely coffee and tea are dwindling.

Macadamia’s resilience against harsh weather, pests and diseases further makes it a better option for farmers in Kenya amid the raging effects of climate change.

“Macadamia used to be a very good cash crop years ago but lack of market killed the trade. Its revival could not have come at a better time when farmers are disgruntled by falling tea and coffee prices and they are struggling with erratic rains,” said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

Labour intense

According to Macharia, macadamia management is not labour-intensive, with the tree requiring mainly manure, water and some pruning before one starts reaping from it after about three years. She noted that most of the nuts are sold abroad, with local consumption being so minimal.

“Just like coffee, the bulk of macadamia nuts harvested in Kenya are exported which makes it a lucrative crop,” she said.

According to her, most of the trees from which the nuts are being harvested currently were grown years back, but farmers are embracing new high-yielding varieties. The global macadamia market is projected to register an annual growth rate of 6.6 per cent between 2020 and 2025, according to global market intelligence ?rm Mordor.

This is because most consumers are choosing the nuts as a healthy snack option as the crop’s use in food and beverage, cosmetics and personal care industries surge. Mathew Ng’ang’a, a seedlings grower in Murang’a, said the crop is on high demand that he is struggling to meet orders for grafted seedlings.

“A good number of farmers are uprooting their coffee and tea bushes and replacing them with macadamia which is high paying. This is creating demand,” said Ng’ang’a, who has been in the trade for years. He sells each seedling at 1.5 dollars, with prices having risen, making the trade lucrative.

Kenya’s macadamia production has more than doubled in the past years as interest in the crop surges, from 11,000 tonnes in 2009 to over 50,000 currently, according to Agriculture and Food Authority. At least 30 ?rms process the nuts before exporting. The thirst to reap from the nuts has seen several county governments in Kenya promote the cash crop.

In Taita Taveta on the Coast, for instance, the county government recently bought some 8,500 grafted seedlings and distributed for free for farmers to boost the growth of the crop that does well in the region.

Besides Europe, China is another market for Kenyan nuts. In producing the nuts, Kenya is competing with South Africa and Australia, among others.

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