About 30 years ago, coffee farmers in Murang’a could not, in their wildest dreams imagine that the macadamia seedlings they were being offered and asked to plant in their farms would one day replace coffee as their major source of income.
Coffee factories used to provide farmers with macadamia seedlings to plant in their farms so as to protect the coffee bushes from strong winds and direct sunlight.
Now the farmers are slowly abandoning coffee farming and embracing macadamia as the demand for nuts continues to increase and fetch better returns.
Several farmers from Kahuro Sub County in Murang’a have praised macadamia farming saying the nuts have rescued them from the declining coffee sector.
“We were given macadamia seedlings to plant in our farms by our local coffee factory about 30 years ago, they were to protect coffee bushes from strong winds and sun,” recalled Anthony Wacu a macadamia farmer.
Wacu, who has a farm in the Mugoiri area observed that they have been struggling to make returns from coffee, thus the motivation to venture into macadamia farming.
In the last decade, many farmers have increased the macadamia trees in their farms in a bid to enter the promising nuts agribusiness.
He noted that currently many companies have established factories to process macadamia, adding that some exporters are also buying the nuts directly from farms.
Michael Kariuki introduced macadamia farm in his once idle section of land and according to him, macadamia pays on a regular basis once they mature.
“I planted 55 seedlings five years ago and I am hopeful early next year I will make my first sale. Macadamia farming motivated me because it requires less maintenance costs unlike coffee and it pays on regular short intervals,” he stated.
At the same time, many other farmers have hailed macadamia farming for having minimal diseases and pest attack as well as the low maintenance cost the trees require.
They also cited instant payment upon delivery of their produce as one of the reasons that have attracted them to venture in macadamia.
Once farmers harvest macadamia nuts, they peel the fresh green coat and deliver to an authorized agent at Kahuro town, who buys the nuts on behalf of numerous nut companies including Jungle Nuts, Kenya Nuts, Sagana Nuts and Farm Nuts among others.
Peter Kamau Irungu who operates the collecting point at Kahuro revealed he buys an average of 500 Kilogrames of macadamia in a day from many small scale farmers who are yet to be registered.
A kilogram of macadamia sells at an average of Sh150 which was highly attractive to farmers, but according to Kamau, the demand went low amid the restrictions imposed to curb spread of Covid-19 prompting the price to fall to an average of Sh60 per kilo.
“Before Covid-19, we used to buy the nuts from the farmers at around Sh150, but since then the rate of exportation went low and a kilo went for around Sh60 but the market is now reviving gradually and demand is going up once again,” he added.
Many macadamia farmers in the area are optimistic that the new cash crop will be a major source of income in the coming years, amid reports of Kenya being ranked amongst top producers of macadamia in the world, with top destinations being China, Japan and USA.
The main challenge facing macadamia farming in the area is theft of nuts at night by unknown people.
The farmers are now calling upon upon the government to register all the farmers in the area in a move that would see only registered farmers sell their nuts produce.
The farmers are also seeking government interventions to protect them from the fluctuating world prices, while requesting for agricultural extension services to help them increase their produce.
By Bernard Munyao and Alex Gathiru