Macadamia farmers in upper Chipinge have called on the government to capacitate them through inclusion into the command agricultural series arguing they are equally contributing significantly to the national fiscus.

Macadamia is one of the plant species that dominate this part of the Eastern Highlands region (also referred to as Matunhu) that is renowned for sustaining the timber industry in Zimbabwe.

The other plant species include avocado pear trees, the forestry family of wattle, pine and gum, as well as bananas and tea.

The macadamia plant is renowned for its ability to produce a total of 27 products which range from cooking oil, facial cosmetics, soap, detergents, rubber, stock feeds right up to motor vehicle interiors and furniture.

The nuts can also be roasted, packaged and consumed as a cholesterol-free snack.

The proposed establishment of a plant to facilitate value addition will also go a long way in maximising their export earnings as currently, they are being compelled to meet shipping costs for export of the raw product from which only 60 percent will be extracted.

The farmers are thus calling for government support interventions to allow for increased productivity.

With the advent of the land reform programme, farmers settled in this south-eastern part of the country were faced with a myriad of challenges, chief among them a market to take their produce to.

According to Mrs Prosper Chibaya, the proprietor of Magistics Private Ltd, proprietors of Gangara 2 farm which has a complement of 130 general workers, so irked by their dismissal were the former settlers that they influenced and ensured all the existing markets were blocked.

“We were settled here in 2004, but it had to take us up to 2010 to convince our buyers to accept our stock. All these years they were, upon influence from their former clients, made to believe we were selling stolen property,” she told journalists on a media tour to the farm last week.

The 268 hectares Gangara 2 farm, which is arguably the biggest producer of macadamia in the area, has 65 hectares on the plant, from which 5 tonnes per hectare (comprising 320 plants) of the crop are harvested per annum.

Owing to frustration, most resettled black farmers uprooted the plantations and converted the land to other uses such as maize production while a handful (who number up to 100) persevered.

They have since formed an association which they use as a platform to meet and share ideas about numerous issues affecting their work and these include sourcing finances, markets, technical knowledge and security.

“We are thrilled that the markets have finally opened up and we have been embraced in a number of foreign countries which include China, SA, Malaysia, Australia and Vietnam, among others. We are now even conducting sales on site and this has alleviated the burden on transport to a great extent. While it is fact that government desires foreign currency, macadamia – just like tobacco – is one area where hard currency can be sourced because we sell in USD,” said Mrs Chibaya.

She, however, said it becomes prudent that the hen that lays the golden eggs be given good care and by this we imply that government ought to reciprocate our efforts by making our working environment more conducive so that we can bring in more.

“Most of the chemicals we need and the equipment such as crackers and cold rooms are bought outside the country, hence we need an allocation for such. But an even better solution would be building a plant here in Chipinge where we are able to do most of the processing and only take the final products out. That way we cut expenditure by more than half,” Mrs Chibaya said.

So closed and exclusive to the white farming community was the growth and export of macadamia that even AREX were not privy to the farmers’ operations.

In the early phases of her farming business for instance, Mrs Chibaya recounts a traumatising experience where she had to ship back a consignment of 30 tonnes she had exported to Kenya for reasons that it had absorbed too much moisture and was rejected.

To date and owing to better capacitation and the subsequent opening up of the markets, quite a number of black farmers in areas which include Bindura, Marondera, Nyanga, Mutare, Mvurwi and Banket have since revived the operations of the macadamia farms they inherited.

The farmers have also appealed for legislation that effects stiffer penalties to persons convicted of stealing macadamia nuts.

“In Chiredzi, the sugar cane plant is so protected that one cannot even pick up a stick that has fallen from the tractor because doing so makes them face the full wrath of the law. Thieves are threatening our operations and unless deterrent sentences are imposed, they will continue to hinder smooth operations at our farms,” said the farm manager Takudzwa Chibaya.

The macadamia plant, which takes nine months from flowering to harvesting, has a lifespan of 75 years during which a farmer needs to spray at least five times a year.