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Demand for Macadamia soars in Kirinyaga

A macadamia nut nursery established at Kiamiciri village, Kirinyaga East Sub County, which is supplying farmers with early maturing nuts. Photo by Irungu Mwangi/KNA.

A  macadamia nursery with over 57,000 seedlings ready for planting hasbeen set up in Kirinyaga County as demand for the commodity continues to increase.

A year ago, Muchira Mbugi from Gatugura village, sat silently outside his house, reflecting on the high profits brokers reap from the sweat of macadamia nut farmers in the area.

He had worked for a certain macadamia processing firm at Thika town as a buying agent for some time and mastered the art of brokerage for the valuable nuts.

Upon calculating the huge profits brokers earned by just being the go-between connecting farmers and buyers without having any financial input or labour in the production chain, Mbugi came up with idea to bring his closest three friends on board.

“I held some talks with the associates and sold them my idea which they bought leading to the birth of our macadamia nut buying venture,” he said.

After a while, the business started to thrive and the trio caught the attention of a nut processor at Kitengela in Kajiado County.

“Tenses Africa which owns the processing plant came looking for us on learning that we were buying the raw nuts in bulk, leading to a strong business partnership.

Mbugi in his 50’s said the processor insisted on organically produced nuts which is a requirement by Ecocert, a body that is charged with the regulatory role of the nuts trade.

The processor, he said, asked them if they could agree to start a grafted seedling nursery, where early maturing varieties could be multiplied and sold to farmers at affordable cost as they expanded the scope of their business.

“The idea was basically to increase our membership and catchment areas in order to increase the nut produce to sustain the Kitengela based factory,” he said.

Mbugi who seemed to be the think tank for his other colleagues mooted yet another idea to start an association mainly for production of the nut as doing so would make them have a strong bargaining power for the commodity.

“It was at that point that Kirinyaga East Nut Growers Association was launched with the membership cutting across the entire county.

Currently, Mbugi who doubles as the association founder and Chairman says the membership stands at 600 while there is still room to expansion to a maximum of 1000.

But of significance is the the seedling nursery, established on a one and half acres piece of land at Kiamiciri village,Kirinyaga East Sub-County, with assistance from the Slovakian embassy.

The embassy, through its home company which buys processed nuts in bulk came in handy and provided the association with the necessary expertise, including an agronomist to set up the nursery.

The nursery is used to produce five varieties of the grafted seedlings ideal for Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru and upland areas.

On how quality mature nuts are selected for planting, Mbugi said, “We select mature nuts for planning and such dry seeds are soaked into water for several hours before being dried to have the seed crack. It is then planted in sandy soil after which they start germinating after a month,” he said.

He said the germinated seedlings are then transplanted into polythene paper bags for two months after which grafting with the desired variety is done.

“Two months later, the seedlings are ready for sale to the farmers at Sh.250 per plant instead of Sh.500 retail price in other nurseries, which enables our members to increase their number of trees,” Mbugi said.

Presently, we have over 57,000 mature seedlings which farmers can buy in readiness for planting during this short rains season, Mbugi added.

The nursery, he said, has a capacity of 185,000 seedlings while all its employees are subjected to regular medical checks as required by the Slovakia Company.

Mbugi says farmers who had earlier on depended on seedlings from Murang’a and Thika have now an alternative source, which is not only time and money saving but reliable in quality.

A farmer, Paulina Wambura who has just bought 200 seedlings from Kiamwathi village said she intends to increase the trees to 500 during next year’s long rains.

“Although I have only five acres of land I think if I plant 500 trees on it. Within the next three years I should start reaping big profits from the venture, since the variety I have been advised to plant is an early maturing one,” she said.

Meanwhile, macadamia farming is almost overtaking coffee with some farmers either inter cropping or doing away altogether with the beverage crop.

But even as the macadamia nut is well paying, compared to coffee, farmers are only able to harvest once a year while the latter has prime and off peak season.Kenya is the second leading producer of macadamia in Africa after South Africa, with Australia being top on theworld.

By Irungu Mwangi

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