• Kenya, the country of the royal macadamia nuts

    from Gregor Sieböck

    In autumn 2013, Simone and I travelled to Bode Naturkost in Hamburg. Bode delivers the macadamia nuts to the Zotter chocolate factory and we learned that these came from both Australia as well as Kenya; whereby Kenya is the main cultivation area for this royal nut worldwide. (Since the last delivery, Zotter gets the macadamia nuts from Australia, from an organic company named Serendip Organics. Bode buys the macadamia nuts from Kenya from another middleman and he didn't want to establish the contact to Kenya Nuts, as Michael Heymann of Bode told me. In contrast to that, Christine of Serendip Organics immediately invited me to Australia - because it really seems to be a special company. So far, however, Australia has not been on the itinerary of the Zotter world trip.) The nuts are mainly delivered from the Kenya Nuts Company, which more or less controls the macadamia nut trade of the entire country. So I tried to get in touch with Kenya Nuts to visit the operation on our Africa trip, but I wasn't successful. I wrote several emails to various addresses but never received any answer. Why didn't they want me to stop by? The website gave an appealing impression. The company delivers, among other things, certified organic macadamia nuts and the website showed pictures of laughing farmers and content employees; but then I conducted a thorough background research because I like to get to the bottom of things - and this unveiled several interesting aspects.

    The owner of Kenya Nuts was a personal friend of the Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president after the founding of the republic in the year 1964. That's why he got advantageous access to huge landholdings in the country. Since 1972, Kenya Nut with its 4000 employees is the most important supplier of macadamia nuts from Kenya and could therefore reach a monopoly position. (Conversation with Frank Omondi of Ten Senses Kenya in January 2014.) Kenya Nuts further expanded on this monopoly in 2009, when the minister of agriculture, William Ruto, prohibited the export of raw macadamia nuts. The official reason for this prohibition was to keep the added value within the country but due to the market concentration of Kenya Nuts, the amendment had catastrophic consequences mainly for the farmers. The price collapsed by four fifths because the farmers now had to sell to the processing companies in Kenya. This strengthened the market position of Kenya Nuts significantly and they could now force their asking price on the farmers. („Hard nut to crack for poor farmers who earn peanuts.“ In: Standard Digital, Nairobi: 16 March 2010. (http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000005740/hard-nut-to-crack-for-poor-farmers-who-earn-peanuts?pageNo=2)) On November 12, 2013, this issue was even discussed in the Kenyan parliament. The member of parliament Mr. Mwiru raised the following request: "The Kenya Nuts Company is currently the only company in Kenya that owns the license to process, deliver, distribute as well as import and export macadamia nuts in the local as well as the international market. This monopoly has led to this company determining the prices for which it buys the nuts from the farmers, only to sell them on for five times as much after only a few processing steps." (Hansard Report. „Monopoly in Macadamia Nuts Trade.“ Kenya Houses of Parliament. Nairobi: 12 November 2013. National Assembly Official Report; www.parliament.go.ke (Available online as pdf download)) Nevertheless, in all fairness, it has to be said that Kenya Nuts also owns its own macadamia nut plantations, which it cultivates organically and from which delivers good quality - but I just couldn't get in touch with this company and what I found inherently interesting was that this was the first company on the Zotter world trip that didn't want to be visited.

    I still wanted to visit a Kenyan macadamia nut company on our Africa trip and was thus looking for alternatives. When I visited Pakkatrade in Zurich, Tobias Joos had told me about Ten Senses, a small macadamia nut company in Kenya that offers fairly traded macadamia nuts and is in the process of establishing the first alternative to the Kenya Nuts Company. So far, however, Ten Senses has not yet been organically certified and I thought that it would be interesting to document this certification process and the establishment of a company that strives to trade fairly. I did some research online and found out that Ten Senses is a Slovakian-Kenyan joint enterprise, whose name stands for ten senses and sensations: "Creativity, integrity, justice, equal opportunities, community, environment, quality, entrepreneurship, sustainability, secret and humour." Then I wrote an email to Nairobi and, within a few hours, received a reply from Frank Omondi, the managing director of Ten Senses Kenya, saying that he would be delighted with our visit. He had also had a look at the Zotter website already and asked if we could bring him and his employees a few bars of chocolate; that would be great!

    In the country of the marathon runners
    In the country of the marathon runners
    In the country of elephants
    In the country of elephants
    In the country of dusty roads
    In the country of dusty roads
    Mount Kenya
    Mount Kenya

    So we visited Ten Senses in Kenya. Frank picked us up in an old, dark green Landrover and together we drove to the macadamia nut farmers at the foot of Mount Kenya. Gabriel and Frida of Ten Senses were also part of the group, who wanted to use this visit to the cooperative to work out a business plan for the following season. We already talked about macadamia nut cultivation in the car.

    Ten Senses has been working in Kenya since 2010 and has specialised on fair trade with macadamia nuts. They supervise 300 farmers and want to expand that number to 500 farmers over the next few years. The average size of their cultivation areas is two to four hectares. Ten Senses offers an alternative to the small farmers who suffer from the monopoly position of the Kenya Nuts Company, because the farmers have no negotiating power otherwise and Kenya Nuts does not feel obliged to trade fairly. Furthermore, the problems of Kenya's agriculture are multi-layered. While the soil is very fertile in large parts of the country, many farmers lack the experience and foresight to know what they should plant, so most of them plant the same thing. For lack of suitable storage capacities and missing access to the market, a lot of food spoils. We have observed this on our trip to Mount Kenya: the farmers sell their agricultural products in a stall by the side of the road, but all of them offer the same things. The fruits and vegetables lie in the sun and the farmers are only left with the hope that a driver will stop and buy their food at a give-away price. Even transporting the goods to Nairobi is unthinkable to most farmers and so the family runs the small stall by the side of the road and waits for customers. Because there is a stall every few hundred metres, the demand is limited. First and foremost, it would be important to organise the farmers in cooperatives, to educate them and to give them power on the market. However, Frank Omondo said that this isn't as simple as one might think because many of these farmers have made bad experiences with cooperatives in the past. They ended up exploiting them after all or were very corrupt. Which is why they doubt this system and rather work on their own account. To organise the farmers in cooperatives, they would have to be shown that cooperatives can work and that is a large financial and organisational effort beforehand.

    Macadamia nuts
    Macadamia nuts
    Macadamia nut nougat from Zotter and macadamia nuts
    Macadamia nut nougat from Zotter and macadamia nuts

    Many farmers already work organically, especially when it comes to macadamia nut cultivation because the trees can obviously do without pesticides. But they are often planted at the edge of the plots and if the farmer grows coffee on his land, for example, then chemical sprays are generally used for that. The chemicals then also afflict the macadamia nut trees. Kenya is also a wonderful market for the multinational chemical concerns because the farmers are hardly aware of the dangers of pesticides. That's why the international concerns can expensively sell sprays that have long since been banned in Europe or in the US by telling the farmers that they will increase their harvest.

    What is once again needed is raising awareness amongst the farmers; because organic cultivation would have great potential in Kenya, especially since many farmers can't even afford the expensive sprays. Once again, Frank Omondi comes into play. He was born in Kenya, has worked as a National Park ranger as well as in the tourism ministry and he loves his country. He dreams of freeing Africa. He can wholly identify with the idea of fair trade and organic cultivation and would like to support the farmers and bring about some change in his country. Frank has visions and is very quick to realise them. I noticed this when we met the representatives of the macadamia nut cooperative in a small village at the foot of Mount Kenya. First Frank talked about how important it would be to expand their capacities, in order to be able to deliver more nuts in the future; but then I said: "It's not just about the quantity but also about the price for which you can sell your goods. Why don't you take care of the organic certification? Many of your farmers work organically anyway, so all you need is the certification and you can not only sell your nuts for a better price, you would also open up new markets to you." Simone and I had brought macadamia nut nougat from Zotter and handed it out. Especially David Mushera Karinage, the chairman of the cooperative, and Frank were impressed with the chocolate. Their eyes began to shine and they dreamed of delivering to Zotter one day. They had never before eaten chocolate with macadamia nuts, but only ever exported the raw material. A wave of enthusiasm went around the room and Frank Omondi immediately realised that the conversion to certified organic cultivation must now be his foremost goal - thus Zotter chocolate had once again inspired everyone!

    The cooperative unites 250 farmers and delivers 100 tons of macadamia nuts per year. All farmers are FLO fair-trade certified. Ten Senses has arranged the fair-trade certification and now pays the farmers 40 to 80 Kenyan Schillings per kilogram of nuts, depending on the quality, as opposed to the 20 to 35 Schillings they got before. Due to fair trade the farmers get a price that is 15% higher and, in addition to that, 5% social premium, with which schools can be built, roads can be expanded and the water supply can be improved. Organic goods can be sold for an additional 10-15%.

    David Mushera led us to his small farm. He has his own macadamia nut trees. The trees grow at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres above sea level and they are also called pension trees in Kenya, because they supply the farmers with nuts to a very old age. However, the trees are very elaborate to plant and it takes 8 years before they bear their first fruit. David's farm was small. Amidst the property was the house, cows, goats, ducks and chickens ran around the garden, vegetables, tea and corn were cultivated and the property border was lined with banana trees and old macadamia nut trees. It was a small self-supporter farm and they sold part of their harvest to the cooperative. That was enough for the livelihood of the family. They had created a small paradise, which supplied them with organic food in a wondrous way.

    The macadamia nut cooperative of Ten Senses
    The macadamia nut cooperative of Ten Senses
    Distributing macadamia nut nougat from Zotter
    Distributing macadamia nut nougat from Zotter

    We travelled on to Nairobi. Frank wanted to arrive before it got dark because it was dangerous to be about the city at night. The closer we got to the capital of Kenya, the heaver traffic became. We got stuck in a traffic jam, used alternate routes via dust tracks and experienced from our car what it meant to live in the most dangerous and chaotic cities in Africa. Simone and I moved to a hotel with a four-metre-high electrical fence around the building and decided to stay only as long as necessary.

    The next day, we met up with Frank again to visit the processing factory for the macadamia nuts. Frank took over managing Ten Senses only a few months ago and has already moved operations to a small industrial area outside the city in the meantime. Because it is an industrial zone, there are less electricity failures than in the city and the area is connected with a paved road. The neighbourhood in which the company was previously located only had dirt roads, which were impassable for trucks in the wet season. In addition, they now also have a larger factory area at their disposal and can expand their capacities.

    The employees of Ten Senses
    The employees of Ten Senses
    Macadamia nuts
    Macadamia nuts