... golden nut could be panacea
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.