Macadamia farmers get jit­tery over China plans

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - BUSINESS - BY GITONGA MARETE [email protected]­tion­

One of the fastest grow­ing agri­cul­tural sec­tors in Kenya is macadamia.

With farm gate prices hit­ting Sh200 a kilo at the close of the har­vest­ing sea­son in Septem­ber, farmers are plant­ing more trees to ex­ploit the op­por­tu­nity.

How­ever, what threat­ens to burst this bub­ble is China's en­try into the pic­ture. China pro­duces about 25,000 tonnes of the nuts an­nu­ally.

China is one of the key mar­kets for lo­cal nuts, im­port­ing about 6,000 mainly un­pro­cessed tonnes of nuts ev­ery year.

Ac­cord­ing to Nut Pro­ces­sors As­so­ci­a­tion of Kenya (NUTPAK) ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Charles Muigai, a del­e­ga­tion at this year's Macadamia Sym­po­sium in China was told that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has started plant­ing more than 10 mil­lion trees, hop­ing to be one of the biggest macadamia pro­duc­ers on the planet.

Should the Far East coun­try pro­duce 50,000 tonnes of nuts an­nu­ally, it could threaten Kenya's ex­port mar­ket.

This prospect has thrown the in­dus­try into a spin, with stake­hold­ers keen on in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion and seek­ing new mar­kets.

Fol­low­ing the an­tic­i­pated com­pe­ti­tion, NUTPAK is or­gan­is­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to sen­si­tise farmers on good crop hus­bandry.

It will peak in March when the next har­vest­ing sea­son starts.

Ac­cord­ing to NUTPAK, the cam­paign will cost about Sh10 mil­lion.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion will then reg­is­ter farmers into mar­ket clus­ters and is­sue them with smart cards in a project es­ti­mated to cost Sh50 mil­lion.

How­ever, Mr Richard Ndegwa, the in­terim head of the Nut and Oil Crops Direc­torate at the Agri­cul­ture and Food Author­ity, down­played the Chi­nese threat, say­ing Kenya's main mar­ket is the United States.

“We are also hold­ing talks with Cuba and other Caribbean coun­tries to buy our nuts,” Mr Ndegwa said.

He added that the agency is work­ing with other stake­hold­ers to in­crease pro­duc­tion from 41,000 tonnes of macadamia to about 100,000 by 2022.

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