In the 80’s and 90’s, Kenya used to grow Macadamia trees to offer shade for their coffee bushes. Today farmers are gaining too much from the nuts that they are now abandoning the bushes. Kenya, formerly known for its Arabica coffee, is gaining global recognition for its Macadamia nuts, with production rising to a record this year.
According to Nawiri Agribusiness EPZ Ltd, rise to becoming the third world’s biggest producer of these nuts is being driven by growing demand in China. Farmgate this year have risen to as high as Ksh 200 per kg and can only go high.
Contrary to Macadamia, coffee farmers are operating at a loss, with their beans earning an average of 50 Kg per Kilo. Farmers are discovering that macadamia is gold. Wherever coffee is grown, the nuts also grows and farmers are now aware of the opportunity with them.” Kenyan coffee production has dwindled after years of mismanagement by the industry regulator to 38,620 tonnes last year from a peak of 130,000 tonnes in 1989.
According to reaserch conducted by Nawiri, macadamia production increased 5% to 41,614 tonnes, after growing more than 20 per cent over the preceding two years. At current prices, last year’s macadamia crop was worth Sh7.49 billion.
On the other hand, according to Nairobi Coffee Exchange, coffee industry earned sh15.9 bilion last year. Farmers in Kiambu, Meru, Embu, Murang’a, and Kirinyaga – highland regions that surround Mt Kenya, the source of the volcanic soil that suffuses Kenyan coffee with its strong acidic and fruity notes – are now the biggest producers of the nuts in the country. Increasing output helped Kenya overtake the US as the third-biggest producer in 2013, a position it has held since then. Australia produced 14,100 tonnes of nut kernels last year, compared with South Africa’s 13,383 tonnes and Kenya’s 5,795 tonnes, according to the Reus, Spain-based International Nut & Dried Fruit Council.
The US is the biggest importer of shelled nuts, followed by China and Japan. Producers exported 31,187 tonnes in 2016, more than double shipments made a decade earlier. Kenya’s production is expected to increase within the next four years when saplings with better yields mature.
Large scale Farmers of Macadamia
Agricultural companies listed in NSE, such as Kakuzi Plc and Sasini Plc have also joined the small scale farmers in diversifying into the high-value nuts which are eaten raw, roasted or added to confectionery. Macadamia oil, which is unsaturated and cholesterol-free, is used mainly in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Kakuzi has been producing kernels since 2016, having planted macadamia trees where it once had coffee. Macadamia sales more than doubled to Sh371.6 million last year, according to its latest annual report, making the nuts the company’s second-biggest earner after avocados. Smaller rival Sasini, which has been growing coffee since the colonial era that ended in 1963, constructed a nut-processing factory that crushed its first nuts this year. Both these new lines of business, macadamia and avocado, show a lot of promise and the respective industries are thriving globally. Kenya now has 27 licensed macadamia processors, from just five in 2013.
Unlike coffee, which was managed and marketed by government agencies, macadamia industry is owned by private sector who if given right guidelines are capable of helping farmers get their rightful share.