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Man sets eyes on macadamia empire 

Friday June 26 2020
4macadamia

Mohammed Khan at his macadamia processing plant in Thika Town. According to him, unlike macadamia nuts grown in other countries, Kenya's produce is organic and therefore has more health benefits. PHOTO | MAGDALENE WANJA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MAGDALENE WANJA

Dressed in a white dust coat and a disposable protective headgear and standing at the entrance to a warehouse along Lodwar Street in Thika town is Mr Mohammad Khan. 

He says everyone working in or visiting the macadamia factory has to observe high levels of hygiene.

This is to avoid any contamination or compromise of the quality of macadamia nuts. This is what he has been doing for the past nine years.

All workers have to observe high levels of hygiene, which include having clear medical records before being allowed into the packaging rooms, not wearing any perfumes and ensuring you put on protective gear.

This, he says, has ensured that he keeps a clean business reputation, especially in the export market.

Mr Khan arrived in Kenya in 2010 in search of a business opportunity, with the hope of settling down and making a fortune.

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Armed with only a backpack, he went around Nairobi and its environs interacting with various people just to find out what he could offer and make a business out of it.

While at it, he came across the Thika Superhighway, which was then under construction, something that raised his curiosity.

“I asked myself what could have led the government to construct such a highway and I knew it must be connecting the city to somewhere interesting,” said Mr Khan.

He decided to follow the road and see where it would lead him.

Coming from Bangladesh, a highly populated country, where many people suffer from lifestyle diseases, he wanted a venture that would not only be profitable but also contribute to the general human wellbeing.

“After my research, I came across macadamia nut, something that I had not heard of before. I wanted to know more about it," he said.

In Thika town, there were a few factories that were processing macadamia nuts but were doing it on a small scale.

“I wanted a place that would be conducive for setting up a factory, as well as easy to access the produce. I decided to settle in Thika,” said Mr Khan.

Coming from a family of medics, Mr Khan had put much premium on nutrition.

After researching, he found that consumption of macadamia nuts helps lower levels of bad cholesterol, which, in turn, can reduce a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.

“I found that the nuts are very useful to diabetic patients, mainly type two,” he added.

This was followed by identifying and visiting macadamia-growing counties.

These include Embu, Meru, Nyeri and Kirinyaga. This is where he gets raw nuts from the farms.

Mr Khan noted that at some point he sought financing from Business Partners International, a specialist risk finance company for formal small and medium owner-managed businesses, to help him buy raw materials.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Once received from the farmers, the nuts are cleaned before they are put in the cracking machine to remove the hard shell.

A machine is also used to separate the good from the bad nuts.

“There are some that are rotten or may be having some decay or are low in quality; they are eliminated at this point. 

“The selection has to be done manually. This is done by workers just to check what might have been omitted by the machine," he said.

The process also involves removing excess moisture from the nuts.

The packaging is usually done in 11.3 kilogramme packages.

He noted that his aim is to see that most people include nuts in their daily meals for the sake of good health.

“Most people have the notion that nuts are eaten as a luxury. This is because they don’t  understand their health benefits,” he added.

According to Mr Khan, unlike macadamia nuts grown in other countries, Kenya's produce is organic and therefore has more health benefits.

“Most countries grow macadamia in orchards and there is a lot of chemical involved. This takes away some of the essential nutrients,” said Mr Khan.

Due to this, the Kenyan macadamia is darker in colour compared to those from fully commercialised countries.

The value of the macadamia nuts has appreciated over the years, as the demand continues to increase. 

Apart from Kenya, some of the countries that grow macadamia include Australia, New Zealand, the US and Malawi. 

“About 10 years ago, we bought a kilogramme of the nuts at between Sh45 and Sh50. By 2019, a kilogramme was selling at Sh240,” he noted.

His main market is export; he sells 32,660 kilogrames of packed macadamia nuts every month.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a blow to many businesses, especially those that depended on a single product or service.

Mr Khan’s business is not an exception as he had to swallow the bitter pill of scaling down most of the activities in his processing factory.

The period, however, has been a story of turning lemons into lemonade through coming up with innovations to remain relevant in the market.

Following a lot of research after doing the business for nine years, his research has led him to production of macadamia oil, macadamia milk suitable for lactose intolerant people and cosmetic products.

He hopes to sell the products both locally and back home in Bangladesh.

“Farmers should embrace growing macadamia nuts because there's a bright future for the sector,” he said.

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