Minting millions from Macadamia export market

Employees at Fairnut Processing Nut factory in Thika working on in-shell macadamia nuts in transit to China. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Macadamia farmers are minting millions of shillings following the suspension of a regulation that barred the export of in-shell macadamia nuts.

Last year, the farmers incurred major losses after some 51,000 metric tonnes of the crop failed to secure the market owing to the depressed economies in the US, Europe and other key markets.

The export window on shelled nuts has been a relief to the sector as the price of the commodity, shot up to between Sh100 and Sh120 per kilo, targeting the Chinese market.

Last year, the commodity was hawked at less than Sh20 per kilo. This year harvesting starts on March 18 as farmers lobby for the removal of section 43 of the Crops Act to allow the commodity to trade freely in the market, giving those interested in processed products an option.

In November last year, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi suspended Section 43 of the Crop Act 2013, allowing the export of in-shell macadamia, ending hawking of the commodity. 

The window will run for a year, expected to close on November 1 this year, with traders exporting more than 20 million kilos of nuts monthly.

A spot check by Smart Harvest shows a 20ft container, which holds 25,000kg raking in Sh336,000, with KRA collecting Sh5,000 in taxes.

Mzee Gikara wa Ndiritu from Nyeri County says the opening of the window is a blessing.

Mr Nderitu, who is a member of Mukarashu self-help group, made up of 40 members, said last year they lost nuts worth Sh5 million.

“This is owing to the depressed market. We hope to exploit the upcoming window to recoup the losses,” he said.

You Sang, a trader from China, says there is a large market for macadamia nuts but they need to be mature.

“I’m in Kenya so that I get the best product for the Chinese market. I have four containers ready for export,” she said recently.

Fair Nut Company Factory in Thika is among the local firms that export macadamia to China.

Chairman of the Nut Traders Association of Kenya (NUTAK) Johnson Kihara said farmers have benefited from the export of in-shell nuts as processors reject immature nuts.

He hopes prices to rise to Sh150 per kilo.

“We are encouraging the farmers to increase their production and avoid dealing with the immature nuts,” said Kihara.

Nahason Mugi, a macadamia nursery operator, says the recent rise in prices has consequently increased the demand for seedlings.

“Since December, farmers are buying seedlings in anticipation of a better future in nut production,” said Mr Mugi.

Morris Nderi, a farmer from Nyeri County, said last year the farmers incurred heavy losses due to the close of the market.

Mr Nderi called for the removal of the section of the Crops Act 2013, saying it has messed up the industry as some processors have been smuggling the shell through the border points.

Agriculture And Food Authority (AFA) Marketing Officer Kiragu Gathunya said as the harvesting season starts, they will crack down on unregistered dealers, who are behind the sale of immature nuts, compromising the quality of Kenyan produce in the international market.

The regulator, Kiragu explained, conducted a survey that established that 75 per cent of the agents contracted by the processing companies are not registered. 

Tonnes of immature nuts were recently rejected by one of the leading processors in the country due to poor quality.

“AFA has established surveillance systems to weed out the rogue players compromising the nut market, through immature nuts,” said Mr Kiragu.

This comes at a time when processors are considering contracting farmers in Nakuru, Kericho, and Uasin Gishu, who own huge tracks to raise production.

“Ensure you harvest mature nuts as the dealers might be forced to engage only those doing genuine business,” he urged farmers.

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