From a small orchard to a large farm, there are crops and plants that are guaranteed to get you good returns when exported.

One such crop is macadamia nuts, an edible seed of the evergreen macadamia tree that belongs to the Proteaceae family (flowering plant predominantly distributed in the Southern Hemisphere).

Demand for macadamia is growing in major markets of the world, which presents export opportunities for local producers.

According to Trade Map, the global export market for macadamia was worth US$843 million in 2018.

Major importers of macadamia in 2018 were China (US$199 million), United States of America (US$193 million) and Vietnam (US$118 million).

On the other hand, the biggest exporters were South Africa (US$299 million), Australia (US$223 million) and Kenya (US$87,4 million).

The global demand for macadamia nuts is expected to grow significantly, driven by changes in consumption patterns, including rising demand for alternative sources of protein that substitutes for meat.

In major world markets, macadamia nuts imports are increasingly driven by the health trends, hence offering opportunities for local growers.

In China, America and Europe, consumer demand for vegan, gluten-free and natural foods is forecast to increase significantly in the next several years, leading to more export opportunities for Zimbabwe.

Thus, local producers and exporters have an opportunity to increase production, which, in turn, would support huge exports to foreign markets.

Considering South Africa’s share of the global market, local businesses have the potential to increase their exports as the two countries share almost the same climatic conditions.

Currently, Zimbabwe’s exports are low and local producers are failing to meet demand, regardless of ready offtakers.

In 2018, Zimbabwe exported macadamia nuts worth US$15 million, mainly to South Africa and China.

With strategic planning and increased output, local producers can improve on the quality of their product and claim a significant piece of the global market.

So what should be done to increase macadamia exports?

First, local farmers, with support from local investment and financial institutions, must increase production.

Current challenges affecting macadamia production include the high cost of seedlings, lack of irrigation facilities, poor post-harvest storage facilities and lack of research on macadamia varieties and production methods.

The conditions, including abundant land and favourable climatic conditions, also favour successful growing of macadamia nuts.

Macadamia trees take around five years before carrying their first fruit.

They also require warm temperatures and good annual rainfall to yield a good crop.

Experts note that from the first harvest, the lifespan and harvesting period of the macadamia tree is more than 75 years, which essentially presents a sustainable and promising option for potential investors.

To increase exports, there is need to capacitate local players in the entire macadamia nuts value chain.

Capacity development interventions can look at efficient production practices and packaging for the international market.

There is scope for strengthening existing institutions that offer targeted training and other capacity development programmes for macadamia production.

ZimTrade, the national trade development and export promotion organisation, is currently providing training to farmers in the macadamia, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, floriculture, paprika and pineapple value chains.

The training programme – under the auspices of the European Union-funded TradeComm II programme – is offering targeted support for strengthening the capacity and competitiveness of small-scale horticulture farmers to produce niche export products.

In addition, with better stakeholder coordination across the macadamia value chain, Zimbabwe could derive enormous value from exporting macadamia nuts.

Areas such as research and development need strengthening, as well as marketing, to ensure that Zimbabwe’s macadamia nuts are up to specification and effectively reach the international market.

This would further enhance the existing strong downstream connectivity between small and large-scale macadamia farmers and facilitate a seamless relationship for de-husking smallholder nuts, including their timely transportation to buyers.

Further, Zimbabwe can increase export earnings from macadamia exports through value addition.

Zimbabwe is currently exporting macadamia as nut-in-shell, hence exporting jobs and revenue.

Although macadamia as nuts-in-shell are easy to export due to food safety concerns, meeting international safety standards will guarantee market diversity and increased earnings for local businesses.

Uncracked nuts fetch an average of US$3 per kg, whilst cracked or nut-out-of shell can fetch US$20 per kg.

Value-added macadamia products can be supplied to specific markets that will guarantee sales.

For example, peeled macadamia are an ingredient for some traditional dishes in Japan.

In Europe, the nuts are used to produce nut oil, macadamia milk, macadamia honey, butter and chocolate coating.

For improved social compliance that will make it easy for locally produced macadamia nuts to penetrate the global market, producers should follow Government and voluntary social standard guidelines that include the Global-Gap and Fairtrade.

Allan Majuru is ZimTrade’s chief executive officer

Image credit: Simon Allen from Pixabay