Farmers on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast are switching from banana crops to planting macadamia nuts to meet rising local and export demand on the back of a growing global macadamia industry.
International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC) research on macadamia nuts show that between 2012 and 2022, global tree nut production grew at an average annual rate of about 229 221 tons year-on-year.
The world market for macadamia nuts was valued at $1.53 billion (around R28.7 billion) in 2022 and is forecast to achieve an annual compound growth rate of 11.2% until 2032.
The research suggests that while Australians have been the biggest consumers of the macadamia nut worldwide, shoppers in the United States bought the most imported macadamia nuts at 9 586 tons in 2020.
China imported 8 074 tons, and 8 099 tons were imported to France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium combined.
The growing macadamia industry has had a marked effect on agriculture on the South Coast, boosting investment in companies that provide fertiliser, pesticides, equipment, security, and processing plants.
While presently, the national markets are over-supplied, the demand for locally produced goods means local retailers and restaurants are considering local farmers.
This demand has seen several South African farmers shift to macadamia nut farming, either exclusively or combined with other agricultural produce. Chairman of Kwa Natal Banana, James Miller, said demand patterns had impacted the sector, which has seen him convert 50% of his farm to macadamias, keeping the remainder as a banana plantation.
He said the demand for KZN bananas has been impacted by competing countries – such as neighbouring Mozambique and Swaziland, which both grow bananas. The ongoing Russian-Ukraine war has also led to increased input costs with fertiliser prices doubling.
“Around 80% of banana farmers on the South Coast are company members. Most of these farmers have planted sections of their farm to macadamia nuts,” Miller said.
Macadamias have a very high international demand, which makes them more profitable. However, while banana farming is more labour-intensive, the skill set required for macadamias is much higher.
Miller, who has 22 years of industry experience, said that most of the bananas are sold outside the province, and almost all the locally harvested macadamias are exported.
South Coast Tourism and Investment Enterprise CEO, Phelisa Mangcu, said the coast has a subtropical climate that creates a fertile environment for various crops.
“The area is already renowned for its banana production, and the growth of the macadamia nut sector is bringing with it job creation and investment opportunities, with the domestic and international export markets primed for these quality-grown products,” Mangcu said.