At least 600 macadamia nut farmers in Tigania East and West in Meru County have formed a cooperative society to kick exploitative brokers out of the sector.
The farmers have vowed to lock them out by use of the cooperative that is expected to pool over 500 tonnes of nuts each season.
With processors currently buying a kilo at between Sh80 and Sh100, the farmers’ produce will be worth over Sh50 million.
There are prospects of the sector rebounding during the “small crop” in October and November, with prices expected to hit Sh150 a kilo when the main harvesting season starts early next year.
However, with the current situation where processors shut their buying centres and are relying on middlemen, farmers fear brokers are likely to manipulate farm gate prices and pocket most of the money.
Meru Macadamia Farmers Association chairman Joshua Muriira said farmers had woken up to the reality that the government was not keen on championing the rights of the farmers, saying after years of fighting brokers that resulted in prices appreciating, the government had deserted them.
“We started with less than Sh40 in 2013 and by 2019, the prices had appreciated to Sh200 a kilo. When Covid-19 struck, processors suspended buying with the prices dropping to where we started over five years ago,” said Mr Muriira.
The farmers said even with the reopening of the sector this year, the prices were still low, with processors buying the nuts from middlemen.
“At the moment, the economy has reopened in export markets but we are still witnessing low prices. Processors have exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to get cheap raw materials yet nuts are a premium product attracting high prices in the international markets,” said Daniel Murungi, a farmer in Tigania East.
Mr Murungi has so far harvested 12 tonnes this year and sold the produce at an average price of Sh65 a kilo, earning Sh780,000.
In 2019 when prices hit a maximum of Sh200 a kilo, he earned at least Sh1.7 million from the same quantity selling a kilo at an average price of Sh145.
Meru Trade, Tourism and Cooperatives executive Maingi Mugambi said his department had partnered with that of Agriculture and Livestock Development to assist farmers set up aggregation centres and strengthen the society.
According to the Department Chief Officer Ms Dionisia M’Eruaki, the centres will also have storage facilities because one of the challenges farmers face is proper storage with some of their produce going to waste.
“This will go a long way in assisting them to store the produce in acceptable conditions as they wait for prices to stabilise,” she said.
In an interview last week, Nuts Processors Association of Kenya (NutPAK) Chief executive officer Charles Muigai had blamed farmers for not disunity, saying they were the only ones capable of extricating themselves from the shackles of the ruthless broker.
“NutPAK tried organising farmers into groups but the growers seemed disinterested. If they are serious in rooting out the broker they should form cooperatives and sell their produce in bulk,” Mr Muigai said.
According to the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate at the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), the value of macadamia nuts exported in 2020 declined by more than half from Sh5.6 billion in 2019 to Sh2.7 billion as a result of the low farm gate prices.
The total annual production of raw nuts decreased by 1.7 per cent from 39,814.9 tonnes recorded in 2019 to 39,134 in 2020, attributed to reduced farm activities and delayed harvesting storage losses as most processors shut operations.