Samuel Ngatia stares at two macadamia trees standing prominently at the entrance of his seven-acre farm. The trees are about 50 feet tall and have admirable crowns.
Ngatia has stuck with macadamia farming despite many farmers quitting the trade. He grows the crop and grafts seedlings in Nyeri County, where he is based.
He was introduced to macadamia farming by his father who handed him the two trees. It was a promising agricultural investment then, but as brokers begun to encroach into the business, its profitability dropped.
The brokers paid as little as Sh20 per kilo and most of the time they delayed payments. However, Ngatia, did not give up.
Macadamia is propagated using seedlings through a method called layering or marcotting, which Ngatia is skilled at.
Marcotting, according to agricultural extension officer Geoffrey Gitau, involves selecting a branch from a macadamia tree with the most desirable characteristics and inducing rooting.
A section of the branch is girdled to remove the cambium and a rooting mixture placed around the debarked area using a plastic paper. It is then fastened with strings but a room for watering is left. The rooting mixture must remain moist to ensure the process succeeds.
“After five to six weeks, a good root system would be visible and the marcots would be ready to be taken from the parent tree to a nursery where they will stay for about a month before they are transplanted,” says Gitau.
He has planted 250 macadamia trees of the Kiambu 1 variety in his farm but only 180 are bearing nuts.
“The trees take four to five years to mature, therefore, they need patience but harvesting is long-term.”
SELLS TO FACTORY
The macadamia season depends on the variety. However, the main season falls between August and March. The trees yield macadamia nuts gradually during this period.
He sells the nuts, which have many uses that include being fried and sold as snacks, making candy, ice cream, cakes and oil, to Jungle Nut, a factory in Nyeri.
Macadamia shells and husks can also be used for mulching, making composted fertiliser, processing fuel, manufacture of plastic and oil.
The company buys a kilo of the nuts at between Sh80 and Sh100. From just the two macadamia trees that yield 100kg each, he earns Sh7,000 per season. Last year he earned Sh200,000 from the sale of about 2,500kg of macadamia nuts that year.
Using the money, he purchased two dairy cows and cemented his house.
He milks the cows thrice a day getting 35 litres that he sells to his neighbours at Sh50 each.
According to Gitau, macadamia trees require nitrates essential in the formation of the nuts, thus, planting desmodium substitutes the use of nitrogenous fertiliser.
Rodents that include rats are some of the biggest threats to macadamia nuts. Ngatia has placed metal barriers at the base of the tree to bar them from climbing up.
He is currently working on a macadamia nursery where he has planted 50 seedlings of the Kiambu 1 variety that he sells at Sh30 each.