Macadamia farming in Meru county began more than 20 years ago. The crop, however, yielded little profit and many farmers cut down the trees in the 1990s and planted crops such as coffee, which were more profitable at that time.
However times changed and the crop, whose profits had nose-dived, began yielding fruit following demand from as far as Asia. The arrival of Chinese in the market about two years ago encouraged more farmers to venture into macadamia farming.
The Chinese bought the nuts for Sh180-200, a price local buyers could not match as they only offered Sh80. Many farmers would hoard their nuts waiting for Chinese buyers to show up. But the farmers' good fortune was short-lived as the Chinese farmers were constantly harassed, deported and intimidated by police allegedly in the collision with cartels who have infiltrated the industry and enjoyed the monopoly.
Arrest of Chinese Buyers
Residents are bitter about the absence of Chinese buyers in the market as some had begun to change their fortunes. Some had even planted the nuts which take about four to five years anticipating they would make a killing from the Chinese.
The first arrest was made in February last year police officers in Meru arrested three Chinese nationals found to be in the country illegally and engaging in buying and exporting raw macadamia.
Yang Guoliang, 38, Xu Muzang, 36 and Cleng Deheng, 21 were put in police custody this led to protest by farmers as the two are said to have been handled as terrorist and deported to China despite a pending court case.
“We arrested three Chinese whose visas had expired last year and they don’t have work permits. They were doing business illegally, buying macadamia and exporting them," the then Meru police boss Nelson Taliti said.
He said the three came into the country as tourists and have been exporting macadamia in its raw form, contrary to the law.
But farmers cried foul and accused police of colluding with the local cartel in the nut industry to deprive farmers of their huge benefits. The arrests did not stop there on February this year two Chinese were also arrested and deported
Several other Chinese were arrested and deported and those that were buying were intimidated and stopped the trade.
On February still, farmers demonstrated outside Governor Kiraitu Murungi office to protest the deportation and demanded protection of Chinese traders.
The most affected farmers were from Tigania West constituency where farmers have planted the nuts in plenty.
The farmers have accused the AFA and Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina of orchestrating the arrests of a Chinese “because he owns a company but is unable to compete with the Chinese”.
On February 5 this year at Miathene during a meeting to educate farmers about the crop Tigania West MP John Mutunga and Agriculture and Food Authority the farmers demanded the reinstatement of Chinese buyers in the market as they offered far better prices. The threatened to cut down the Macadamia nuts if the Chinese buyers were not allowed.
The Nuts and Oil Directorate in the Agriculture and Food Authority has denied involvement in the price wars behind the sale of macadamia nuts as alleged by farmers during their protests.
Raymond Kahindi, the interim director, said the directorate’s intention is to regulate the sale and harvesting of immature nuts. He said the situation facing farmers can be solved by leaders engaging in dialogue over the standoff.
Mutunga urged the government to intervene to have Chinese back at the trade. His sentiments were echoed by on the same month by Akithi MCA David Kaithia.
In the Meru county assembly, Kaithia was very vocal about the plea of farmers.
He even led a committee on trade from Meru county assembly led by David Kaithia visited farms in Tigania West and compiled a report on the plight of farmers.
After touring many farms in the area and getting views from farmers, the MCAs promised to pass laws that will protect macadamia farmers from exploitation.
The farmers have complained about exploitation amid price wars that left two Chinese nationals deported.
They claimed the deportation was orchestrated by local macadamia buyers who had accused the Chinese of unfair competition.
"Many farmers in Tigania depend on macadamia after the coffee industry collapsed. They must be protected from exploitation," Kaithia said.
Godfrey Kirema, a farmer, says the government should weed out cartels who have invaded the market and led to the deportation of Chinese buyers.
Mercy Kendi said they want Chinese buyers back as they were buying at good prices.
Ntima East MCA Mutethia Mauru has said the assembly needs to set a fixed price for macadamia. He urged farmers to add value to their products for higher returns.
Kiegoi MCA Kimathi Ithibua asked the county to set up a macadamia factory in Tigania.
He said local buyers should not eliminate foreign competition.
"It is unfair to kick out the Chinese buyers. If local buyers want the macadamia, then they should raise their prices to Sh200 per kilogramme," Ithibua said.
Kiguchua MCA Linus Athinya accused cartels of exploiting farmers. Athinya also faulted the Agriculture and Food Authority for allowing the harvesting of macadamia yet the crops were not yet ready.
Five months later the Chinese are not yet back and farmers can hear none of the promises from leaders anymore.
Some farmers have declined to sell their nuts to the local buyers, citing low prices.
Meru MCAs passed a Sh10.26 billion budget in the budget a substantial amount is set aside for empowering avocado and macadamia farmers but farmers are still complaining that the county is doing little about their pleas and grievances.
The Petition in court
Macadamia farmers in Meru have petitioned the government to allow them to sell Macadamia nuts directly to Chinese brokers.
The farmers filed their petition through lawyer Kiogora Mugambi on July 5, 2018.
The farmers want the law that bans the export of raw macadamia nuts expunged claiming the Agriculture cabinet Secretary misuses it.
“The minister can give licences to few people to export raw macadamia at expense of small-scale farmers,” Kiogora said.
He said an association of packers, processors and traders oppose the petition and have asked to be allowed to file responses.
Kiogora said Chinese brokers who buy Macadamia at good prices have been harassed and deported.
The farmers said the Chinese brokers buy one kilogramme Sh200 while local buyers buy at less than Sh100.
The farmers want Section 43 of the AFFA act 2013 prohibiting the export of raw Macadamia was enacted unconstitutionally and hence is null and void.