It has the potential to improve farmers’ livelihood, boost their income levels as well as potential to increase the country’s export receipts. Yet Macadamia has failed to attract major commercial interest and remains hugely unexploited.
Not only can the edible nutlike seeds be used for nutritional purposes, they are also used in the production of skincare oil, hence a valuable cash crop.
According to Elyseé Gatarayiha, Manager of Norlega Macadamia Rwanda Ltd, a macadamia processing and exporting company, empirical research has revealed that on average, people who eat between two to seven seeds of Macadamia every day reduce cholesterol levels by 7 per cent. This reduces chances of obesity and too much body fat.
A macadamia tree can, on average, produce 30 tonnes annually, with potential to yield twice that much if well catered for.
“A farmer with ten trees would leap much and these nuts are selling as high as US$1 per kilogramme yet they are planted alongside other food crops,” Elyseé Gatarayiha told Business Times in an interview.
He says his company is encouraging farmers to grow the crop with emphasis on commercial farming but also for consumption.
While the crop is currently grown on some 1,156 hectares across the country, usually alongside other crops, Gatarayiha says it does not receive much attention from government and private operators.
“The demand is enormous. The global market is only 46 per cent and we only produce between 20 and 30 tonnes per year.”
Estimates indicate that one hectare can accommodate 173 trees. Production increases as the trees get older. Most of the trees in the country are estimated to be ten years old with the yield expected to double to 600 tonnes by the end of the year.
However, this might depend on how fast the country addresses some the underlying challenges.
For instance, Rwanda has only one nursery of macadamia established by National Agricultural and Export Development Board, and located in Rwamagana, Eastern Province.
Although Norlega Macadamia Rwanda intends to set up a nursery in every district to make seeds available to famers at affordable price, it is not clear when this initiative would be implemented.
Norlega supplies to major super markets in Kigali as well as national carrier, RwandAir. It is negotiating for deals with Serena hotel, among others.
The company is also in touch with potential clients in Uganda including Shoprite, Hotel Africana, Entebbe duty free and Nakumatt Uganda.
“We are overwhelmed by the market, but we are confident to supply to existing clients and also expand our network,” Garayiha says.
The huge market demand can only be met if farmers are well educated about the benefits of the crop.
A recent study for Macadamia Development and Processing in Rwanda commissioned by Kayonza District with support from the Belgian-Rwandese Study Fund indicated that an annual production of about 16,000 metric tonnes of the nuts over the next 15 years would generate more than US$30 million per year by 2020.
In an effort to address some of the challenges, Alex Kanyankole, the Director General of National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) said a plot of land was identified at the Kigali special Economic zone to construct a central processing plant for macadamia.
The initiative is being implemented through Public Private Partnership model between NAEB and potential investors.
“There are quite a number of investors who have approached NAEB to do this investment but our approach is to have farmers get involved directly,” Kanyankole said.
He said that at the moment small scale processing is being done and exports of macadamia nuts have also started.
NAEB operates a macadamia nursery at Muyumbu in Rwamagana district where farmers are supplied with plants.
“Our target is to plant close to 200 hectares next season and also plan get alternative varieties that can give more production,” he assured.