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Kenya rakes in Sh2b from Macadamia sales

Kenya has been rated the fifth world leading producer of Macadamia nuts , with a turnover of an estimated Sh2.3 billion annually from exports to Asia and European markets.

The surge in the earnings has largely been attributed to improved extension services, high yields and strategic market penetration by local producers.

Last year, Sh2 billion raked from Macadamia resulted from the sale of over 12,000 tonnes of the crop, harvested from 10,000 hectares of farm coverage.

In spite of drought that hit parts of the country during the year and fluctuations in selling price per kilogram of nut in shell varying between Sh30 and Sh120, Macadamia from Kenya retained global competitiveness, ranking fifth after Australia, America, South Africa and Guatemala.

The crop’s markets in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda are also up-coming. A global power house, Kenya also supplies planting material to Ethiopia. Other producers include Costa Rica, Malawi, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand.

According to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the crop’s improved turnover in Kenya has been sustained through the development of high yielding varieties, founded through research.

Paul Kiuru, KARI’s research officer in charge of Macadamia says courtesy of the recently developed top of the range varieties of the crop, Kenya’s Macadamia industry promises to maintain a competitive market position in the future.

“Our newly developed varieties such as Kiambu3, Embu1, Kirinyaga15 and Muranga20 are doing quite well and have all proved fruitful in most regions including where coffee and tea thrive,” Kiuru says.

While speaking to journalists from Eastern Africa on a field trip organized by the Inter region economic network (IREN) at the Macadamia research centre in Thika last week, the researcher said plans were also afoot to expand Macadamia farming to Western Kenya.

“This crop has traditionally been associated with Central Kenya. We have henceforth commenced researches that will enable us roll it out to parts of Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western provinces. It will thrive well, we can authoritatively state,” he noted.

He said trials were already going on in Trans-Nzoia, Kitale and Bungoma.

Kiuru lamented that sustainable Macadamia production had over the years been inhibited by soaring costs of farm inputs and exorbitant costs of seedlings, which currently stand at a whooping Sh120 per seedling.

China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and India are among markets for Kenya’s nut in shell Macadamia.

Macadamia nut originated in Australia, but commercial production is concentrated in Hawaii, some countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In the continental United States, Macadamia trees are found in California and Florida.

The yield of in-shell nuts on poorer land in Hawaii is about 5200 lb/ac, with at least 7000 lb/ac attainable on better land. In Australia, the yield in good orchards is about 4000-5000 lb/ac.

The shell accounts for most of the macadamia nut’s weight. Hawaii’s average kernel recovery rate from in-shell nuts was 23.5 per cent during 1989-1990. With an improved cracking system, better shell-kernel separators, and cultivators with a high percentage of kernels, the recovery rate could increase to 35 per cent.

An estimate for 1989 indicates that macadamia nut planting covered 54,600 ac and total production of in-shell nuts was 62 million lb. Hawaii is the major producer, accounting for over 73 per cent of total production, followed by Australia (22 per cent).

About 2000 acres are planted in the San Diego area. Although not all plants have begun bearing, Southern California growers produced about 150,000 lb (in-shell) of rough-shell macadamia nuts in 1988 at a farm gate price of approximately $1.50 lb Rough-shell nuts do not roast well; the price reflects a novelty demand for in-shell or raw nuts.

Hawaii is the world’s leader in growing and processing macadamia nuts. In 1989-90, Hawaii harvested a record 50.5 million lb of buts (net, wet in-shell basis) for a record farm value of $44.9 million, up from 18.2 million lb and $5.8 million in 1975-76. The crop covered about 22,300 acres in the state, of which 18,200 acres, or 82 per cent, were bearing acreage.

The price of in-shell nuts has climbed along with production in Hawaii. The net farm gate price has gone from 31.6 cents in 1975-76 to 89 cents in 1989-90.

In Hawaii, macadamia nuts are grown by both small-scale farmers and large corporate producers. Most operations are located on the Big Island. Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp. (a subsidiary of C. Brewer) and MacFarms of Hawaii are the two largest local growers and processors.

A 1989 CTAHR study calculated annual net returns per acre in Hawaii from start-up to maturity (16 years or older) for farms of 25, 50, 100, and 500 acres. Various price and yield scenarios were used for mature orchards, showing substantial economies of scale for the larger farms.

A previous study published in 1982 assessed the economic feasibility of 5-, 10- and 20-acre farms in Hawaii. Most growers are multiple-income farm families, and macadamia nuts supply only a fraction of their income.

Australia is the second largest producer of macadamia nuts, with an estimated 15,000 acres planted in 1989. While most of the Hawaii trees are mature, an estimated 20 per cent of the trees in Australia are bearing.