April is usually an important month for macadamia farmers in Kenya as this is the period when harvesting begins.
There is normally increased activity on farms in central Kenya in particular as farmers harvest their produce and sell to processors or brokers for as high as 220 Kenyan shillings (about 2.2 U.S. dollars) a kilogram.
But with the outbreak of COVID-19 that has disrupted the global market, prices of the much-loved nuts have declined to an all-time low of 0.80 dollars a kilogram as farmers lack market.
However, to stem losses, savvy farmers are harvesting and bulking the nuts, some with the help of processors, as they wait for the world to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
China, United States, Middle East and Europe are some of the markets where Kenyan farmers export the produce to.
“The processor is helping us store the nuts until the global markets open up. We are harvesting and taking to them because we do not have quality storage facilities,” Charles Muriuki, a farmer in Meru, said on Wednesday.
Muriuki observed that they agreed with the processor to store the nuts, who would then pay them minus the storage charges, hoping that the crisis would end soon.
“The nuts are prone to mold attack which causes aflatoxin if not stored well. We are better off when they are with the processor,” he said, adding that farmers only collect those that have fallen on the ground, symbolizing they are mature.
Some farmers like Mathew Ng’ang’a in Murang’a are, however, drying and storing the produce for themselves hoping that the global market would resume soon and prices would rise as trade flourishes once again.
So far, he has harvested three 90kg bags of the nuts and stored them in sisal bags which help prolong the shelf-life, according to lessons he picked from agricultural officers.
“Sisal bags are the best because they allow good aeration of air thus temperatures do not rise inside leading to mold attack unlike when one uses polythene sacks,” said Ng’ang’a, adding that the bag should be placed on raised timber planks to avoid water or moisture from reaching the nuts.
But even as farmers dry and bulk their produce, they have crossed their fingers that the COVID-19 shutdown of global markets does not persist for long, so that export of the produce resumes soon.
The high yields are one of the reasons some farmers in the east African nation have ditched coffee and tea for macadamia.
According to Peter Wangara of Limbua Ltd, which processes and exports macadamia, the export market is shut currently and since they are working with contracted farmers, they are collecting the nuts and drying for them to achieve moisture content of 3 percent before storing.
East African nation’s macadamia production stood at around 50,000 tons in 2019, having grown five-fold since 2009, according to the Agriculture and Food Authority. At least 30 firms in Kenya process the nuts before exporting as the law requires. Enditem