The Nuts and Oil Crops Inspectorate has asked county governments in macadamia growing areas to urgently come up with regulations to control middlemen accused of milking farmers dry.
Failure by the devolved units to limit the number of agents has encouraged exploitation of growers, said Raymond Kahindi, head of the inspectorate.
“If the broker is not controlled, the farmer will continue selling their produce at low prices. We encourage counties to come up with regulations,” he said.
According to Joshua Muriira, Meru Macadamia Farmers Association chairman, farm gate prices started improving in 2014 when producers were coopted in a committee that sets minimum returns at the start of the harvesting season.
“Before 2014 prices were below Sh50 a kilo but when we started negotiations they went up. We were kicked out of the committee in 2016 when we sold at Sh80 a kilo and prices have improved by only Sh20 since then,” he said.
However, this harvesting season started with better prices, with a kilo going for between Sh100 and Sh110.
Nuts Processors Association of Kenya (NutPak) executive officer Charles Muigai said the price was expected to rise to Sh120 within a week.
Lacks the mandate
Mr Kahindi said the inspectorate does not have the mandate to control prices in a liberalised market, adding that the intention of the committee was to bring on board processors and farmers so that they may regulate themselves.
“When the committee was formed our objective was to unite the processors and farmers so that they could work together. NutPak and the farmers’ associations should ideally work in partnership because they are the ones running the sector. The processor should not exploit the farmer because they need them,” he said.
He said there were plans to set harvesting seasons for each of the county where the crop is grown to ensure there was quality control. The inspectorate banned harvesting of the crop in Meru before February 20 after reports that farmers were selling immature nuts to cash in on a windfall from 11 Chinese investors who were buying the produce at Sh170 a kilo. The Chinese were later arrested and deported for allegedly being in the country illegally.
The government banned export of unprocessed cashew and macadamia nuts in 2009 to protect the local processing sector valued at Sh2 billion annually. Since then, there have been cases of smuggling the produce to China through Tanzania but Mr Kahindi said they had increased surveillance at the borders to curb the illegal trade.
Dr David Kaithia, chairman of the Agriculture committee at the county assembly said the Meru County Microfinance Corporation should step in and help farmers to form cooperatives as well as helping in marketing the crop.