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The good returns that South African growers are receiving for Macadamia nuts is providing the impetus for a rapid expansion trend in this highly nutritious nut. While competition from countries like Australia, Kenya and China is increasing, over the past five years, South Africa has been the largest global exporter of Macadamias.

The fastest growing tree crop industry in South Africa

The production of Macadamias is currently the fastest growing tree crop industry in South Africa and figures of new plantings of macadamia orchards over the past two years have been quite staggering. This grew by 5 351 hectares in 2020 and by a further 6 235 hectares in 2021.

The official statistics from Macadamias South Africa NPC (SAMAC), the South African Macadamia producers’ industry organization, showed that the annual macadamia harvest volume is expected to increase by 14% this year. This industry growth has been ongoing over the past three decades, as production has increased more than 20-fold, from 1 211 tons of nut in shell (NIS) in 1991 to 61 000 tons in 2022. The total value of annual production has increased from R32 million in 1996 to approximately R5.1 billion in 2022.

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Above: The 2020 macadamia production figures per producing country

The current production of Macadamias in South Africa is divided amongst the coutry’s provinces af follows: Limpopo 16%, KwaZulu-Natal 43%, Mpumalanga 36% and Other 5%. The traditional growing regions are in the far north of the country in the Levubu and Tzaneen districts in Limpopo and in the Nelspruit, White River, Hazyview, Malelane, and Barberton districts in Mpumalanga. In Kwazulu Natal, macadamias are produced along the North and South Coast regions, as well as in the Midlands. The good returns that macadamia producers have received is seen productions expand to non-traditional areas such as the Eastern and Western Cape provinces. As the profitablility of sugar production has declined during the past decade, in parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, sugarcane plantations are being replaced with macadamia orchards. While the entry costs of macadamia production are high, one advantage is that the macadamia orchards are micor of drip irrigated and use less water than sugarcane, which is irrigated by pivot irrigation.

Macadamias are evergreen trees and ideally require a hot subtropical climate for good productions. The trees usually bear a small crop after their fifth year and reach full production in 5-12 years.  Trees can produce for up to 40 years and therefore the growth trend in Macadamia production is likely to continue for many years ahead. The most widely produced variety in South Africa is Beaumont.

As the industry expands, employment numbers continue to grow within the macadamia industry due to the increase in new plantings. The harvest and processing season is from February to August and it is estimated that 10 000 new job opportunities have been created within the industry. In addition to permanent employment, the industry creates an additional 9 000 seasonal jobs during the harvest season. The growth in this industry is earning additional foreign revenue for the South African agricultural sector. Like South Africa’s other agricultural export industries, the macadamia industry is providing much-needed jobs in a country with one of the highest unemployment levels internationally.

South African production mostly focused on the export market

The South African macadamia industry is focussed almost exclusively on the export market, with 98% of the industry’s annual production shipped to international markets. According to SAMAC statistics, in 2021 approximately 97% of the nut-in-shell exports were exported to East Asia and China.

Article by Louise Brodie

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