Desperate farmers hawk macadamia nuts after collapse of market

Macadamia nuts. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Macadamia farmers suffered a setback following constraints in the international market with the majority forced to hawk the produce.

In the past, the farmers smiled all the way to the bank owing to the ready market but this changed last year due to the weakening of the shilling against the dollar and the global financial position.

The macadamia market took a hit after most families in the US and Europe spending power declined due to the fluctuating economy as they recovered from the effects of Covid-19 pandemic.

As the farmers suffer, shop owners in several parts of the country are a happy lot as the commodity is now available at a cheaper price.

Last year a kilogramme of macadamia was selling at between Sh150 and Sh200 at factories before the price fell to between Sh10 and Sh30 per kilogramme.

In Nanyuki town, Laikipia county, the raw nuts started being sold in the market after the traders bought them at between Sh20 and Sh30 per kilogramme from farmers in parts of Nyeri and Murang’a counties and sold the same at Sh100 per kilogramme.

In July last year, following the hue and cry from the farmers over the collapsed nut market, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi opened a three-month export window for the in-shell.

Nut Traders Association Chairman Johnson Kihara raised the alarm in January last year warning the farmers to accept any price that would be offered as the market was not ready for the produce.

“We had warned the farmers of the global crisis and many ignored the call to accept the price that would be floated by the buyers,” said Kihara.

In the prospects for 2024, Kihara said the low price will remain but will be higher compared to what was offered in 2023.

“The situation is expected to get better in 2025 as the economy globally is expected to recover,” he said.

Morris Nderi, a farmer in Nyeri county blamed the government for the introduction of regulations that led to the collapse of the industry.

Nderi said Chinese investors had for a long time sought the repeal of the offensive sections in the Agriculture Act.

“The lesson learnt by the farmers has been painful as many of the farmers in Nyeri sold their nuts to factories operating with boilers as an alternative for wood fuel,” said Nderi.

Njiru Kathangu, a farmer in Embu, said the export window opened by Linturi failed to benefit the farmers as the season had ended.

"Urgent interventions are required in the nut sector to save the farmers from the suffering," said Kathangu.

An expert in macadamia farming, Peter Ngugi who doubles up as a field officer with Afrimac processing firm noted that the export of in-shell nuts window failed following the collapsed global market.

“The window failed as a kilogramme in China traded at 2 dollars. We hope next year there will be a market for the commodity,” he said.

The in-shell market has been at the centre of the battle leading to the enactment of a policy to bar the export with hopes to create employment.

Ngugi admits that the quality of the nut has been an issue. Kenya is on a global map and is likely to be banned if by 2030 the concerns will not be addressed.

Kamau Mwaura, a farmer in Kandara said the lack of export market led the farmers to hawk the produce to fend for their families.

“Many of the farmers plan to uproot their macadamia trees and replace them with other high-value crops,” said Kamau.

Jane Njuguna, a shopkeeper made profit from the sale of the raw nuts at Sh100 per kilogramme.

She said majority of the farmers, found new areas of trading that paid better after the processors declined the produce.

"Hawking is a refuge to some of the farmers after the disruption in the export market," said Ms Njuguna.

Players in the sector have appealed to the Agriculture Food Authority (AFA) to repeal section 43 of the regulations to allow the export of in-shell to the available market.

Nahason Mugi, a macadamia seedling operator, warned that the situation is dire as tonnes of nuts are going to waste due to the stringent regulations.

"Price of the nuts are at the worst based on last year the sector closed with a kilogramme trading at between Sh160 and Sh170 depending on quality,” said Mugi.

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