Secrets of getting maximum return from Macadamia tree

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Despite macadamia being a lucrative cash crop, many farmers do not receive maximum returns, due to errors of omission and commission, says agriculturist Wambui Rigaga, the head of the Agriculture and Nurseries Department at Afrimac Nuts Company.
Though a mature tree can produce between 80kg and 300kg of nuts, most farmers harvest between 30kg and 50kg, and incur unnecessary production costs. Failure to get maximum return can be attributed to errors of omission and commission, says agriculturist Wambui Rigaga, the head of the Agriculture and Nurseries Department at Afrimac Nuts Company.
According to Mr Dunson Munene, a field operations manager at the same company, an acre of land can hold up to 71 macadamia trees. This should earn a farmer, going by the current government set minimal returns of Ksh70 per kilo of nuts, up to Ksh1,470,000 per acre, depending on agronomic practices and favourable weather conditions.
At the you harvesting 80kg per tree due poor weather conditions and bad agronomic practices. At the first harvest, which comes two years after transplanting the seedlings, a farmer can fetch between 30kg and 50kg, depending on the variety and the attention given to the trees. Production increases with every harvest.
Due to high competition for the nuts by processing and marketing companies; most buyers offer improved prices to farmers. Last year, some companies offered as much as Ksh200 per kilo of nuts, but external market factors forced the prices to drop to an average of Ksh130 per kilo. Mr Munene saya macadamia nuts can grow in most parts of the country, but production will vary depending on the amount of rainfall, where farmers have no access to irrigation water.
It t is important to consult experts on best varieties for given regions. Ms Teresa Njeri, a supervisor at the company, the preferred variety is Murang’a 20. It is hardy and adapts well to different climates, with improved production throughout the year. Other varieties produce twice a year.
Propagation Where farmers are getting 50kg and less, it means that there is a problem often starting with propagation of the seed, to the attention and care given to the tree.
“Propagation requires a lot of monitoring and doing the right thing at the right time, including watering and spacing. One must also be trained to ensure that one can differentiate between varieties of nuts by looking at them before planting and at the seedling stage, to ensuring that there is no mix-up when selling the seedlings to farmers,” adds Ms Njeri. Ratios of the propagation media, including soil, sand and compost manure, are key among other technicalities that call for training.
Timing Right from the nursery, proper records must be kept. Transplant the seedlings when the plant has two full leaves and a bud, while ensuring that they are properly uprooted, handled and transported to where they will be planted in the polythene bag.
Spacing The recommended spacing is 10 by 10 metres, which adds up to 71 trees per acre. Congesting the trees affects nuts production, as the branches will meet, thus denying them enough sunlight and other required conditions for flowering and nuts production.
Management “The other mistake that farmers make is to abandon their trees after planting. The trees require weeding, especially when young. Their shades cannot suppress weeds. Apply manure at least once a year, as strong healthy trees will guarantee you the best quality and quantity. Be careful with pruning. Do it in a slanting manner, using pruning scissors. Do not use a machete.
Pest and disease control The tree is disease-resistant. “Some farmers use chemicals to control pests and insects. That is wrong. Control them using smoke. Light a fire about two metres away from the stem, ensuring that it is not big enough to reach the leaves. We recommend pepper and similar strong smoke producing weeds,” says Ms Njeri. The bitter smoke will penetrate throughout the crop and effectively control pests and insects. Harvesting and storage Many farmers and processors encounter huge losses due to poor harvesting and post-harvest handling. Sometimes losses amount to over 90 per cent. Do not harvest premature nuts. Collect them from the ground and deliver them to the market as soon as possible to avoid affecting their quality. Storing at home for long can compromise quality. The nuts can develop moulds, just as they do when harvested immature. “Harvest and post-harvest are very crucial stages. When harvested, nuts should be stored in raised sisal bags and not polythene bags. Place the sacks on well-laid out timber planks to that ensure they do get into contact with water,” Ms Rigaga advises. She believes that macadamia has a bright future in Kenya, despite the challenges facing the sector.

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