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Obert Ntonyo, a macadamia nut tree farmer in Malawi, is a patient man. He has to be. After all, it takes five years from the time a macadamia nut tree seedling is planted to its first production of nuts.

But for Ntonyo, the wait is worth it. His 100 macadamia trees—provided by Global Tea and Commodities Ltd. to help individual farmers become macadamia nut producers—could more than double his income.

Ntonyo knew for years that the macadamia nut trees offered better earning potential than the tomatoes and cabbage he grew at home. Since the seedlings were just too expensive, he continued working on a commercial macadamia nut farm. When he heard about a new program that would allow him to become his own macadamia nut producer, he rushed to join. At full production, he expects to earn around $340 per tree annually—which would enable him to send his five children to university.

“I’m a small farmer but now I can get the same benefits as the big farms,” Ntonyo says, standing next to one of his trees.

Obert Ntonyo expects to earn around $340 per tree annually, enough to send his five children to university.

Global Tea’s initiative to expand macadamia nut farming in Malawi is backed by a $4 million joint investment from IFC and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) made in 2018. GAFSP Private Sector Window is supported by the governments of Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition to the investment, a three-year IFC advisory engagement with GAFSP supports the program with financial literacy training for the farmers, including guidance on record keeping, managing loans, and budgeting during crop cycles. IFC is also working with macadamia cooperatives in the country to improve their management capacity—enabling them to serve and support farmers more efficiently.

Global Tea, with support from the Dutch government, is distributing 300,000 macadamia seedlings to 3,000 farmers across Malawi’s Thyolo and Mzimba Districts, where rolling hills and good growing conditions favor the growth of macadamia. Half of the farmers in the program are women, ensuring that men and women both benefit from the opportunity to increase their livelihoods. The company offers these farmers technical guidance on managing pests and plant disease, controlling erosion, and applying low-tech irrigation techniques.

The Business of Farming  

Global Tea and its top macadamia nut buyers saw an opportunity to help small-scale farmers in Malawi improve their livelihoods while also securing more macadamia nut output to meet consumers’ demand. The country accounts for 3 percent of the world’s macadamia nut output and is the third largest producer of macadamia in Africa. Global Tea is already one of Malawi’s top macadamia producers, as well as the country’s largest coffee producer.

Once participants are selected for Global Tea’s project, each farmer receives 100 seedlings, as Ntonyo did. Along with those seedlings comes coaching throughout the planting and growing process as the farmers learn to manage their farm like a business. Finally, once the trees produce nuts, Global Tea guarantees the farmers a buyer for their production.

“The project will improve the lives of 3,000 families and more importantly, this is the stepping stone towards producing at a much bigger scale,” says Nadeem Ahmed, the chairman of Global Tea.

Image: Global Tea is distributing 300,000 macadamia seedlings in a region of Malawi with favorable growing conditions.

Focused on the Future

For farmer Annie Fred, growing macadamia nut trees is a 30-year investment that will benefit her grandchildren. Learning business skills to help her manage the trees is a critical part of the project. “I feel good as a woman that I can do this,” Fred says as she looks over her macadamia trees, interspersed with corn and beans. “I am experimenting with new crops to create opportunities for my farm and my family.”

IFC’s involvement brings benefits to the local environment as well. As part of the partnership with Global Tea, IFC has helped the company replace its diesel generators with solar panels at its facilities in Malawi and Kenya.

In addition to GAFSP, the advisory project is in partnership with IFC’s Conflict-Affected States in Africa (CASA), an initiative backed by Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway that is focused on accelerating private sector development in post-conflict countries.

Join the conversation: #IFCimpact

Published in October 2019