Macadamia nut processors have projected a rise in production in the next five years as farmers switch to the cash crop due to growing demand.
The demand is fuelled by attractive farmgate prices that hit the Sh200 mark a kilo at the close of September. The price made the crop so lucrative that there is rampant theft of nuts when they are ripe for harvesting especially in the central region.
Mr Charles Mwangi, a farmer in Nyeri, said he had to seek services of two police officers armed with AK47 rifles to guard his 700 trees about three weeks before harvesting.
“Considering that I harvested 12,000 kilos and sold all of them at Sh180 each, there was no room for taking chances with the nuts,” he said in a telephone interview. He plans to plant a maximum of 4,000 trees in the next one year.
In Meru, Mr Joshua Muriira, Macadamia Farmers Association chairman, said he harvested 4,000 kilos from 140 trees and sold the nuts at an average of Sh190 a kilo. “I cannot complain because the prices were good. This was my best experience as a farmer and I intend to plant more trees,” he said.
According to Nut Processors Association of Kenya (NutPAK), production of macadamia nuts has increased fourfold in less than a decade as more farmers embrace the crop.
The ban on export of in-shell macadamia has paid huge dividends from national annual production of 11,000 metric tonnes in 2009 and four processors to over 40,000 metric tonnes and 30 processors currently, said NutPAK executive officer Charles Muigai.
While opening a nut processing factory in Embu County last week, Deputy President William Ruto maintained that the ban would remain to protect local industry. Mr Ruto banned the export in 2009 when he was Agriculture minister.