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Going nuts: Farmers’ big bet to escape poverty

  • By Pamela Okutoyi
  • February 24, 2022

Macadamia farming is a sunrise industry. It holds much promise for farmers, the economy and consumers alike, particularly as the market is experiencing exponential growth in demand.

The potential of the macadamia farming and processing industry is still young in Kenya, meaning that farmers are still learning the trade tricks. Therefore, the industry requires more significant efforts on research and development for best farming practices, processing and product development if Kenya is to increase its value-add to the economy and job creation. 

The World Macadamia Organisation estimates that macadamia supply will double in four to five years and triple within a decade. Due to the growing awareness of the nut’s nutritional value, its global supply will reach 660 000 trillion by 2030.

One company, Onja Uone, is on the frontline of raising awareness of macadamia nuts farming. Its goal is to ensure the security of supply and consistency of quality for Kenya to hold up its exports of macadamias into world markets. The family-owned business is training farmers on the best farming techniques and the changing quality requirements of global consumers and providing a ready market for their products.  This has a positive rub-on effect on the quality of produce. The industry can drive economic growth and create employment with continued collaboration and support from key stakeholders.

Macadamia trees take up to ten years to grow to maturity. The trees, however, can be “harvestable” after five to seven years of growth. Farmers need to prioritise soil health and tree strength to limit chemical pesticides and herbicides to ensure good yields. 

Macadamia trees grow best in subtropical climates, rich, well-drained soils, and reach 15 m tall. Currently, Onja Uone owns 25 acres of macadamia trees in Western Kenya.

In the late 1990s, the company transitioned from farming and selling maize, the main food crop in western Kenya, into growing and later processing macadamia nuts under the brand name Elgon Nuts.

The company started cracking nuts in the early 2000s, in Lukhuna Village, in the rural heartland of rich farmlands on the undulating and panoramic slopes of Mt. Elgon in Trans Nzoia and Bungoma counties. The factory was established and continues to be operated as a grower-owned service provider.

The processing facility later rebranded farming in western Kenya, serving a more significant population of farmers who previously put their trust only in farming maize. It helps farmers in Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Baringo, Bomet, and Kericho, where new orchards are planted every year. Onja Uone currently processes nuts from over 100 farmers, intending to grow these numbers significantly.

Onja Uone believes that it is a prime example of how the macadamia industry collaborates with farmers to create a single, shared processing facility offering communities job opportunities and better livelihoods.

The vast majority of the macadamia nuts processed by Onja Uone is exported primarily for snack consumption, and the balance is used in confectionery and oil pressing.

The facility supports farmers through agricultural extension services to improve the productivity of their orchards. Recently, Onja Uone introduced contract farming to enable farmers to sell their produce each season.

The processing factory has introduced high-level skilled jobs to this rural location, which has raised the average purchasing power in the area. Thus Onja Uone Ltd is helping to lower poverty rates among the people and contribute to enabling Kenya to meet international millennium development goals.

Onja Uone plans on expanding into other growing regions in Western Kenya and servicing the growing numbers of hectares that are being planted. Onja Uone prides itself on being an industry leader, particularly as it strives to grow globally, introducing its products into the international market.

Kenya Climate Ventures has offered the company both financial and technical support.  With this support, Onja Uone has diversified farming in the region that has uplifted the lives of farmers and the community at large.