THE macadamia sub-sector has been growing exponentially over the past few years, with indications that it will become a significant foreign currency earner from the agricultural sector.
The development of the sector is now important as macadamia presents a lucrative alternative to tobacco; whose global demand is under threat from lobbyists seeking to ban smoking.
Should farmers adopt the crop, backed by research and Government support, macadamia can complement the golden leaf’s foreign currency earnings significantly by 2032. Already, Zimbabwe is targeting to transform the agriculture sector into a multi-billion-dollar sector through the Agricultural Recovery Plan, and the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy launched by His Excellency, President Mnangagwa.
The macadamia sub-sector has potential to contribute significantly towards realisation of the country’s targets.
When looking at numbers alone, the export value of macadamia nuts has been growing since the first recorded exports in 2013.
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe exported macadamia nuts worth around US$1, 95 million in 2013, a figure which grew to around US$20, 7 million in 2019.
Available data shows top importers of Zimbabwe’s macadamia in 2019 were Mozambique (US$11, 24 million), South Africa (US$9 million) and China (417,000).
ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, is assisting local farmers to tap into new international markets such as United Arab Emirates and Japan, which have competitive prices that will offer more value compared to regional markets.
Further to the growing value, the export quantities have also been growing, up from 1,476 tonnes in 2013 to 7,426 in 2019.
Even though projections are that yield from macadamia farmers will continue growing in the coming years as plantations by the large estates reach their full potential, there is potential to boost production through the active participation and integration of smallholder farmers into the export value chain.
This can be achieved, and the model has worked before in Africa.
How Kenya has grown
The growth of the macadamia sub-sector in Kenya has been anchored on the contribution of about 200,000 smallholder farmers to production, according to a study commissioned by the Netherlands-based Centre for Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI).
In terms of production figures, Kenya’s total output has been growing in the last decade, from around 11 000 tonnes nut-in-shell in 2009 to 42 500 tonnes in 2018.
If the total production in 2018 is to be averaged by the total number of around 200 000 smallholder farmers, this implies that each farmer contributed only 212,5 kilogrammes.
Along the same lines, if a good and fully grown macadamia tree can produce at least 40kgs per year, each farmer in Kenya harvested, on average, only five trees maximum to attain the country’s total production output.
What is encouraging to note is that smallholder farmers in Kenya are using macadamia as a product diversification model, with almost half of them growing plants primarily mixed with other crops such as coffee and tea.
This strategy fosters synergies in crop production. Although Kenyan smallholder farmers constitute the largest number of macadamia producers, the growth of the sector has been necessitated by the closer linkages in the value chain, which also include macadamia processors, traders, associations, and governing authorities.
Further to this, Kenya’s high earnings on export markets has also come as a result of policy measures put in place to promote value addition before exporting.
According to CBI, exports of macadamia nuts in shell from Kenya without written authorisation from the Cabinet Secretary have been illegal since 2009 under Section 43 of the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Act.
This has forced all macadamia grown in Kenya to be processed locally, which in turn has increased on earnings, necessitated development of local processers, advanced domestic value addition, created jobs and improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers, particularly rural families.
To put this into perspective, in terms of weight of exports, Zimbabwe exported more in 2019 than Kenya but earned less.
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe exported 7,426 tonnes in 2019 and earned US$20, 7 million in exports whilst Kenya exported only 5,322 tonnes and earned US$72,31 million.
Only US$120,000 worth of macadamia exports in Kenya were nuts in shell, the rest were shelled. At the same time, Zimbabwe exported only US$86,000 worth of macadamia nuts shelled. Although the obvious argument might be that Kenya’s exports might have weighed more if they were exported in shell, that alone is not enough to dismiss the monetary and non-monetary benefits accrued as a result of processing nuts before leaving the country.
Undoubtedly the cost of shedding probably around 30 000 tonnes of weight during processing has increased value of nuts, job creation and improved livelihoods of farmers in Kenya.
Malawi has also gone the Kenyan way of having a deliberate approach to increase value-added exports, exporting US$26,483 worth of shelled nuts against US$269,000 nuts in shell in 2019, according to Trade Map.
Adopting Ten Tree programme
to increase production
Considering the successes recorded by Kenya, there is potential for Zimbabwe to grow its production if it adopts a Ten Tree programme.
This will involve integrating more smallholder and communal farmers into production by capacitating them to grow at least 10 macadamia plants in their farms or homesteads.
This small number grown by multiple players has a multiplier effect to the eventual production by the country if well-structured consolidation mechanisms are put in place. Evidence from East Africa, primarily in Kenya, and Tanzania also shows that smallholder production has potential to increase quality in tree products.
This is mainly because smallholder farmers can intensively cater for the small number of trees, which is a key necessity to increased productivity and quality of tree products.
This is achievable and requires improved coordination at district level, which will dovetail with the aspirations of the devolution agenda, spearheaded by President Mnangagwa’s Second Republic.
If each fully grown tree has potential to produce about 40kgs of nuts per year, it will require only 100,000 smallholder and communal farmers to produce 40,000 tonnes by 2032.
Apart from improving access to raw materials, other capacity development interventions can look at efficient production practices and packaging for the international market.
Areas such as research and development need strengthening, as well as marketing to ensure that Zimbabwe’s macadamia nuts are up to specification and effectively reach the international market.
This would further enhance the existing strong downstream connectivity between small-and large-scale Macadamia farmers and facilitate a seamless relationship for de-husking smallholder nuts and their timely transportation to buyers.
Allan Majuru is ZimTrade’s chief executive.