... golden nut could be panacea

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SOCIETY - Tendai Chara

SOME pre­vi­ously dis­tressed farm­ers in Chipinge now have every rea­son to smile all the way to the bank.

Over the years, there has been a grad­ual fall in the prices of tea and cof­fee on the global mar­ket.

The fall brought with it un­cer­tainty and loss of earn­ings for the farm­ers.

A shift from tea and cof­fee pro­duc­tion to in­vest­ments in macadamia trees is seem­ingly pay­ing off.

In­for­ma­tion gath­ered from the Chipinge Macadamia As­so­ci­a­tion (CMA) in­di­cates that there are 209 reg­is­tered macadamia farm­ers in Chipinge alone.

Of th­ese, five are com­mer­cial farm­ers and 62 are A1 farm­ers, with the rest be­ing A2 farm­ers.

A re­cent tour of Chipinge re­vealed that macadamia farm­ers are bet­ter off than those that pro­duce crops such as maize and po­ta­toes.

“My life has changed for the bet­ter since I shifted to macadamia nut pro­duc­tion. From the earn­ings, I man­aged to buy a trac­tor, ve­hi­cles and a house in Mutare. I would have not achieved this had I only con­cen­trated on tea and cof­fee pro­duc­tion,” said Mr Sam Mak­wiyana, a lo­cal farmer.

The rich pick­ings from the nut has re­sulted in farm­ers in­creas­ing the size of their plots.

Ac­cord­ing to the CMA, 8 000 hectares are un­der macadamia trees, a sharp in­crease from the 4 000 hectares that were un­der pro­duc­tion two years ago.

A to­tal of 16 000 tonnes of macadamia nuts were pro­duced last sea­son, with com­mer­cial farm­ers con­tribut­ing 7 000 tonnes. The rest came from A2 farm­ers. Macadamia nuts are mostly ex­ported to China and South Africa, where de­mand is very high.

The price of the nuts are de­ter­mined by their qual­ity, with lo­cal prices rang­ing be­tween $1.80 and $3.20 per kilo­gram. Mr Mak­wiyana said the prices are fair.

“We can­not com­plain. Re­mem­ber only five years ago we did not have a mar­ket for macadamia nuts. I am not say­ing this is the best price one can get, but this is a good start. We are surely mov­ing to­wards get­ting very good prices,” Mr Mak­wiyana added.

Mr James Maisiri, the CMA sec­re­tary-gen­eral, says his as­so­ci­a­tion is mak­ing con­certed ef­forts to im­prove the qual­ity of the nuts.

“As farm­ers, we have no choice but to work to­gether to im­prove the qual­ity of our prod­ucts. We have teams that reg­u­larly visit the farm­ers, ad­vis­ing them on how to cor­rectly ap­ply fer­tilis­ers and pes­ti­cides.”

“If a farmer’s plan­ta­tion is af­fected by in­sects for ex­am­ples, chances are very high that the in­sects will also af­fect the neigh­bour­ing farm,” Mr Maisiri said.

The farm­ers have re­alised that grow­ing macadamia trees, like any other fruit tree, is an in­vest­ment.

Af­ter plant­ing a grafted spec­i­men, it takes five years for the tree to pro­duce a sig­nif­i­cant amount of nuts. New plant spec­i­men can pro­duce in three years. Macadamia trees are con­sid­ered to be ma­ture af­ter 10 to 15 years.

Macadamia farm­ers are, how­ever, fac­ing a litany of chal­lenges, chiefly among them the ab­sence of a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket.

“Those that are buy­ing from us are mid­dle­men who take ad­van­tage of a lack of other al­ter­na­tive mar­kets and lower prices. We des­per­ately need Gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance in sourc­ing for mar­kets,” Mr Maisiri said.

In­ter­na­tional prices cur­rently range be­tween $12 and $16 per kg.

To counter the neg­a­tive ef­fects of the mid­dle­men, a num­ber of lo­cals were re­cently granted ex­port per­mits that will see them di­rectly ex­port­ing the nuts to China and South Africa.

In the past, macadamia pro­duc­tion used to be a pre­serve of a few white com­mer­cial farm­ers.

Af­ter the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the land re­form ex­er­cise, newly-re­set­tled farm­ers could not ac­cess the mar­ket, re­sult­ing in the ma­jor­ity of the farm­ers cut­ting down the trees.

Mr Maisiri summed up the needs of the macadamia nut farm­ers.

“We ba­si­cally need work­ing cap­i­tal so that we add value to the nuts so that we max­imise on prof­its. Due to cli­mate change, our farm­ers now need to ir­ri­gate the trees and this calls for the set­ting up of the ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture,” added Mr Maisiri.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Maisiri, very few farm­ers are ca­pa­ble of putting the trees un­der ir­ri­ga­tion.

Cur­rently, farm­ers are har­vest­ing an av­er­age of three tonnes per hectare.

Pro­duc­tion can rise up to six or more tonnes with proper man­age­ment and ir­ri­ga­tion.

Macadamia nuts can be pro­cessed into cook­ing oil, but­ter and other fin­ished prod­ucts.

It is, how­ever, ex­pen­sive to set up pro­cess­ing plants.

Macadamia nuts are highly re­garded in such coun­tries as China and South Africa where they are mostly eaten raw or roasted.

It has been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that the nuts are low fat and there­fore good for one’s health.

Mr Maisiri

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