Kenya: Organic macadamia nuts help farmers survive drought (Trust)

| February 6, 2017

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On a dusty summer day in the village of Githure in central Kenya, a tall farmer named Francis Mureithi scoops up manure from a compost pit. Mr. Mureithi and other farmers wear brown overcoats and black gumboots as they spread mulch around the base of macadamia trees.

Mr. Mureithi says the mulch has many benefits for macadamia trees. He explains, “The mulch insulates the soil, keeps weeds at bay, and protects the plants against extreme temperatures.”

Mr. Mureithi and other farmers in the region used to apply chemical fertilizers that were expensive and left behind chemical residues. But farmers like Mr. Mureithi are now growing their crops—such as nuts, coffee, and maize—with organic farming practices, which are generally less expensive and help the crops become more drought-resistant.

Organic farming focuses on managing crop production and soil fertility by making maximum use of natural products and natural processes in the environment, and without using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Many Kenyan farmers who now practice organic farming say that organic methods have big benefits for them.

Mary Wanja is one farmer who practices organic farming. She says organic methods have helped her to cut her farming costs in half, by saving the money she used to spend on chemicals. She adds, “It is also more healthy, as consumers now eat produce that is chemical-free.”

Stephen Karanja says that organic mulch has been highly effective for his soil. He says, “I used to lose 70% of my produce in times of drought, compared to only 20% now, thanks to the mulch that keeps the soil moist.”

Since 2010, the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network and experts from Kenya’s Egerton University have been training rural communities on organic farming, as part of a project funded by macadamiafans GmbH, a German-Kenyan company that promotes organic farming and new markets for Kenya. The aim of the project was to create a new sustainable market system for the nuts, including cultivation, processing, and exporting.

The project has trained more than 2,000 farmers. Rhoda Jerop Birech is a professor at Egerton University. She says macadamia nuts are tolerant to drought. She explains, “Their leaves lose little water regardless of the temperature and sunshine.”

Anthony Ngondi is the head of macadamiafans in Kenya. He says that changing from chemicals to organic farming should help farmers build resilience to extreme weather and climate change. Mr. Ngondi adds, “Organic farming has given local communities a reliable source of income by ensuring their crops can withstand drought.”

Mr. Mureithi was one of the first eight farmers to be trained in 2010. He says macadamia farmers traditionally sold their produce to brokers, who acted as intermediaries between the farmers and nut processing companies. He adds, “They were taking advantage of us and stealing money from us.”

But things have changed for the better. Instead of selling their produce to middlemen, farmers have learned to process the nuts themselves, including drying, shelling, and packaging. Macadamiafans ships the nuts to Germany, where students from a partner school in Göttingen sell the produce in an effort to learn about social entrepreneurship.

This article is based on a story titled “In Kenya, organic macadamia nuts provide a cushion against drought.” To read the original story, go to: