Macadamia farmers in Meru County are likely to lose in the next season following an attack of crops by flower-ruining stinkbug. It causes flower and fruit failure.
The farmers also said they had been advised by a processor not to spray their crops in an attempt to grow their trees organically in order to fetch premium prices.
With the prolonged drought this year, the growers are facing a more than 50 percent drop in their yields during their February 2020 harvest, they said.
Joshua Muriira, a farmer at Kitheo, Tigania East where most macadamia is produced in the county said all flowers had fallen from trees, and projected this would cut harvests.
“Last season (between February and June) I harvested 4,600 kilos but due to this problem I might harvest less than half of that,” he said, adding he sold most of his produce at an average Sh170, earning more than Sh750,000. During the season, farmers had a windfall, with prices rising to Sh220 a kilo.
Mr Muriira said Jungle Nuts Limited, a processing company based in Thika, encourages them to grow their crops organically but lamented that farmers had not been trained in taking care of their trees in the event of such pest attacks.
“At the same time, when we grow our crop organically there is no difference in prices. They don’t give us premium prices for the produce,” said the famer, who is also the Meru Macadamia Farmers Association chairman.
Michael Wachira, the Jungle Nuts manager in charge of farmers, defended the firm, saying last season they paid Sh10 a kilo in bonuses for farmers growing their crops organically.
“Besides deploying extension officers, we have also organised growers into clusters and appointed lead farmers who train their colleagues in various methods of controlling the pests,” Mr Waweru said.
According to Richard Ndegwa, head of Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate at the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), stinkbug pest is controlled through biological and cultural methods for organically produced macadamia.
Mr Ndegwa said although agricultural extension services are under the county governments, their inspection officers would also advise farmers on what to do.
“Depending on damage, some levels of chemical can be used but are discouraged for organically grown crops,” said Mr Ndegwa. “We will soon dispatch a team of inspectors to the ground and we expect them to find out what the problem is so that we provide the necessary advice to farmers to avoid huge losses,” said Mr Ndegwa.