Kenyan farmers are making so much from production of the nuts from macadamia trees that they’re abandoning the beans.

The demand for the crop is being driven by demand from China, according to Nairobi-based agro-processor Nawiri Agribusiness EPZ Ltd.

Farmgate prices for unshelled nuts have risen to as high as 180 shillings ($1.80) a kilogram (2.2 pounds) this season from about 70 shillings at the start in December, and may climb to 200 shillings, according to Alfred Busolo, head of Kenya’s state-run Agriculture and Food Authority.

Though once known for  its prized Arabica coffee, many coffee farmers operate at a loss in Kenya with their beans earning about $0.55 per kilogram, according to a report last year by London-based advocacy group Fair Trade.

“Farmers are beginning to discover that this is gold,” said Loise Maina, one of three founders of Nawiri Agribusiness.

“Wherever coffee is grown, macadamia also grows and farmers are now aware of the opportunity with macadamia.”

Kenyan coffee production has dwindled after years of mismanagement by the industry regulator to 38,620 metric tons last year from a peak of 130,000 tons in 1989.

Macadamia production increased 5 percent to 41,614 tons last year, after growing more than 20 percent over the preceding two years, according to the AFA. At current prices, last year’s macadamia crop was worth 7.49 billion shillings.

The coffee industry earned 15.9 billion shillings last year, according to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.

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