JOSEPH CHIBUEZE, in this report looks at the economic potential of cashew farming and effort being made to harness it
Nigeria has the potential of generating well over $198 million annually from cashew nuts export. Incidentally, this has largely remained a pipe dream owing to a number of factors including the weak link between actors in the value chain, old age of most trees, deforestation, low yielding varieties, dominance of smallholdings, dependence of most farmers on wild varieties, among others.
It is reported that the estimated area under cashew plantations in Nigeria varies between 200,000 and 300,000 hectares with an export output of just about 260,000Mt. This is considerably far below the output of a neighbouring West African country, Ivory Coast, which leads the way in Africa with yearly export of about 725,000Mt.
Dr Okey Ani, former advisor/consultant of the World Bank said if government is serious about job creation and pulling people out of poverty, it should be focusing on the development of cashew as a cash crop.
According to him, “It is unfortunate that such an important cash crop as cashew does not even feature in the list of crops that government recognises. Cashew has the potential of earning this country revenue that can even surpass oil and gas.”
President, Association of Cashew Farmers, Aggregators and Processors of Nigeria (ACFTAP), Engr Unekwuojo Edime speaking on the challenges confronting cashew farmers in Nigeria said Nigeria currently earns very little from the enormous potential in cashew as an economic growth driver and as a veritable tool for job creation and livelihood improvement.
According to him, “Nigeria is losing so much in cashew business because of the low capacity of our farmers and processors and the near absence of government support.”
Edime’s position is reflected in the life of cashew farmers in Ochaja community, Dekina local government area of Kogi State.
The farmers out of frustration, abandoned their cashew farms because of lack of support. Farmers in the community said bushes had taken over their cashew farms because they don’t have the money and energy to continue farming.
Chief Yahaya Ibrahim, is the traditional ruler of the community, he is also a cashew farmer. For 10 years, he abandoned his 12 hectare cashew farm when it became clear to him that his labour on the farm was not rewarding. The yield was low and even the buyers decide how much they would pay him.
“It was frustrating,” he said in an interview. “I was spending so much to clear the bushes, at a point it became a big burden as I was not getting help from anywhere, so I abandoned my cashew farm for 10 years.”
But Chief Ibrahim is now a happy man. In fact he has developed new love for cashew farming, an occupation he had since vowed never to return to again.
“My interest in cashew farming was reignited by the coming of APPEALS project,” he said looking really happy.
Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) Project is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development supported by the World Bank.
The project which has a six year life cycle, is targeted at supporting small and medium scale farmers of eight value chain crops, poultry farmers, dairy processors as well as those in aquaculture.
“Between 2019 and 2020, the APPEALS team organised workshops and seminars for us on the importance of cashew, the good agronomic practices, packaging and how to get buyers,” Ibrahim said.
He said APPEALS project did not just stop at the training, it also facilitated the distribution of cashew farming implements that they can use in their farms such as chemicals, cutlasses, slashers among others.
“The reason I ignored my farm is because the work became tedious, and there were no materials to use and no financial support. But when we were given the slashers, a place that take five labourers a whole day to clear, with just one litre of fuel, you will clear the place in a day,” Ibrahim said.
“After clearing the farm, APPEALS also supported us with herbicides and insecticide, they gave us manual sprayers and the motorised sprayers to use on our farm.”
He said before now, middlemen buy their products at ridiculous prices, but APPEALS connected them with off-takers who they sell directly to on a good price. “Go to my community now, you will see people erecting modern houses as a result of the Kogi APPEALS intervention,” he said.
“If APPEALS continue in Kogi for the next 10 years, there would be massive poverty alleviation in the state.”
Another cashew farmer, and Chairman of Ochaja Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, Noah Yusufu said he was discouraged because he didn’t have the money and the energy to maintain his cashew farms. However, with the intervention of the APPEALS project through training and input support, he returned to the farm.
“Before APPEALS came in, I always encountered bush burning in my farm because the farm was overgrown with weed,” Yusufu said. He said after training by APPEALS and the inputs they supplied him, he has been able to keep the farm weed free and his harvest has doubled.
“I rarely harvest 15 bags from my seven hectares farm, but after training and provision of farm inputs by APPEALS, I got about 45 bags from the same farm and each bag costs about N40,000.
“Whenever we harvest, we invite the off-takers who come to our farms or houses and buy up everything. This is unlike before, the middlemen decided the prices of our products without consulting us.
“APPEALS has changed our lives, some of us are building new houses, I will buy my own car and build my house very soon.”
Mrs Sarah Ameh is also a cashew farmer in Kogi State. She is a member of Ajedama Group. She attests to the fact that the intervention of APPEALS project has changed the way she approached her farm work and that has also reflected the yield from her farm.
A cursory look at the mid-term report of APPEALS project released recently shows that cashew productivity rose from 0.5mt/ha to 0.7mt/ha which is about 40 per cent increase.