Africa: How Kenyan Farmer, Mwiti Kobia rose to become a major exporter of nuts

farmer

Kenyan major exporter of nuts, Mwiti Kobia started as a macadamia farmer. But along the way he realised there was a gap in accessing the market, so he proceeded to add value to the crop.

According to businessdailyafrica.com, Kobia set up Nutri Nuts and Fruits Limited, an agro processor majorly dealing with edible nuts — macadamia and cashew nuts. They also process dried fruits like mangoes, bananas and dried pineapple, which are mainly exported to American and European markets as well as Asian markets, predominantly China.

“We started as farmers of macadamia nuts and fruits. Because of the challenges we had of accessing markets we saw an opportunity to be able to value-add the product while uplifting the lives of the farmers in our zones in Meru,” says Mr Mwiti, Nutri Nuts managing director.

“We’ve met both the local and international food safety standards. We are licensed food exporters by the Agricultural Food Authority. We also have the FDA registration for the American markets.”

The journey to Nutri Nuts and Fruits Limited started in 2019 when Mr Mwiti set up a processing facility that meets local and international requirements.

“We’ve since grown from handling 500 metric tonnes to 3,000 metric tonnes yearly, meaning, we’ve been able to incorporate more farmers from Nyeri, Embu, Mount Kenya region as well as Baringo. We are looking to venture into Kitale where we’ve started promoting farmers to plant macadamia and avocado fruit trees.”

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The 500 tonnes they processed in 2019 were mainly exported to the Chinese markets.

“But we’ve since grown to accommodate Italy and Germany in Europe in addition to North America,” he says.

At the onset, Mr Mwiti had six acres of macadamia trees. This has increased to 28 acres. Currently, the agro-processors works with 2,800 farmers.

Traditionally, macadamia is planted in the upper zones of Mt Kenya region, but Nutri Nuts and Fruits has set up its farms in the lower zones of Meru a semi-arid area, just to prove to farmers that the crop can be grown there.

Nutri Nuts and Fruits is providing farmers with a drought-resilient macadamia crop variety that yields higher returns compared to the traditionally water-intensive variety.

“When you look at the weather patterns, they have become more extreme. It’s either high unexpected rainfall or dry and prolonged periods like what we’ve experienced in the semi-arid parts of Kenya,” Mr Mwiti notes.

“It becomes difficult for the farmers because they’ve been depending on maize, so they end up depending on relief food.

This is an alternative crop that also contributes very positively to the climate because it’s a tree. The more trees we plant, the more we’re able to mitigate climate change.”

Macadamia goes for Sh100 per kilo, and on one acre of the crop can bring in between Sh600,000 and Sh900,000 a year.

Unlike most industries, Nutri Nuts and Fruits is set up in the rural areas, with field officers reaching out to existing farmers while bringing on board new farmers by offering them quality grafted seedlings.

“We are running programmes for schools, giving free seedlings to them, and at the moment they’re six in Meru. For farmers, we offer subsidised rates. A macadamia seedling costs Sh300, but we’re offering them at between Sh80 and Sh100.”

The agro-processor has between 120 and 150 employees, mainly women and youth, depending on the season, with 18 being permanent staff.

Mr Mwiti says macadamia can be grown with other crops such as peanuts, onions, tomatoes.

For the schools they have partnered with, macadamia can be an alternative source of income while helping the pupils to learn the value of trees at an early age.

“I have grown up in Meru on the farms, in a family that was keen on farming so I’m basically a farmer. We were doing dairy farming, as well as macadamia, beans and maize,” he says.

“Having a background in biochemistry, I developed an interest in setting up industries. Because Kenya is a largely agricultural country, it made sense to venture into agricultural processing.”
Taking the leap from biochemistry to agricultural processing, Mr Mwiti says “was quite difficult telling people I wanted to work in agriculture”.

“Actually, it’s a passion I’ve had since I was a child. At a young age, when in class four, I bought my first goat for Sh540. That’s how I got into dairy farming.”

The entrepreneur says the biggest challenge when starting was finance.

“The biggest challenge when starting up is access to finance as well as support, in terms of the quality and quantity of production,” he says.

“If you compare with our competitors South Africa, Australia, and others, they are steps ahead of us. We are encouraging Kalro to come up with better varieties to suit the changing climatic conditions and look for varieties that can be planted in arid and semi-arid areas,” he says.

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