The macadamia industry in Malawi is facing a turning point. For over 40 years private estates have exported this high-value nut into the international market, but as innovation of the plant and handling of the crop finds its way forward, the smallholder sector of Malawi has a unique opportunity to take the knowledge and experience of the private estates and join a growing industry.
Since macadamia left its native Australia to be commercialized the world over, it has been adapted into vastly different regions with changing climate and quality of soil. In Malawi the clones planted in millions of hectares are coming from Australia and Hawaii, but now local researchers are looking to evolve the plant into a variety that works best in the specific conditions of Malawi.
Two specific key issues identified in this region are the size of the trees and their susceptibility to an insect, the Batheocuelia sp. Reducing the size of trees, or dwarfing, is considered the outmost objective in plant evolution for macadamia farmers around the world. A smaller tree can allow for better management, as insecticides can be sprayed all over, plus the quality of the nuts can be increased with dwarfing rootstock. Small trees also mean that other crops that are grown in between orchards will have more space and time in the sunlight.
Clonal adaptation is an increasingly important area of advancement in the industry; right now the smallholder sector is expanding and planting new orchards, if the trees they plant, which will produce nuts for the next 30 years, are better adapted to the climate and conditions of the land, the volume of nuts in shell could increase to up to 40% from what it is today. It is imperative, then, to speed up varietal trials and produce them in nurseries at a country-wide level. So far a project funded by Irish Aid has explored crossing dwarf varieties of macadamia with the most productive of the existing varieties in Malawi.
The desired outcome for future trees are ones that have small stature that prove more drought resistance and give thicker shells, thus making the extra 40% kernel recovery. Climate change has so far impacted Malawi with vast variation in weather; the hot seasons are hotter, the dry seasons are dryer, and the rainy seasons tend to be so heavy that crops are washed away. By having smaller, sturdier and drought resistant varieties, most of the weather conditions can be sustained.
The reason behind a thicker shell is to make trees more resistant to Batheocuelia sp.; this insect is adapted to penetrate through the fruit and shell of the nut and eat away the insides. It is hard to tell which nuts have been affected, thus much work is lost in harvesting nuts that when cracked turn out to be spoiled. This pest tends to hide high above, in the taller trees, thus avoiding ground-based sprayers.
At an estate level, pests are being controlled through an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system, however this is now antiquated and impossible to implement on a smallholder level. Thus, new ways of pest management are being explored, but for this it is key to have smaller trees.
One major bottleneck of the industry is found at a nursery level, when new trees are grafted. This process is cumbersome and stresses the plant, which then tends to produce less when it matures. Researchers in the smallholder sector have looked at establishing rootstocks and then grafting the trees in the field. This approach speeds up the process and allows for better growing of each tree.
Finally, the system of crop buying by cooperatives needs to be based on the quality of the kernels, this way farmers will get the right message about the importance of better handling their harvests and implementing pest control. Moreover, farmers who are looking into starting an orchard will be offered better options and be advised on how to control pests and manage their investment. This growing industry can multiply its potential by allowing scientific innovation.
Add a Comment