Cashew nut was once a source of livelihood for farmers along the coastal region.
Despite being one of the highly priced nuts in the world, lack of extension services, inability to access high-yielding varieties and ageing trees have seen production plummet to the lowest levels over the years.
In 1977, cashew nut production was at 38,000 tonnes, this has so far dropped to between 12,848 and 15,000 tonnes annually, according to the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro). There has been overall reduction in acreage under the crop leading to low volumes.
This production fetches Kenya about Sh397.4 million yearly against a potential of 45,000 tonnes estimated to have a value of Sh1 billion, according to Kalro.
Most of the cashew nuts produced are from small-holdings of about 68,000 farmers. The sub-sector has the potential to create employment through value addition and fetch the Exchequer billions of shillings through exports.
However, hopes of revival appear to be on the horizon following the plans by the Ministry of Agriculture and ETG Farmers Foundation (EFF) to lift the small-scale growers’ earnings on the Coast.
In line with the government’s Big 4 Agenda and through the Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS), the government is intent on reviving the once vibrant sector through a project dubbed Korosho Ni Maisha.
The proposed project, which is a partnership with EFF, aspires to transform the rural coastal region livelihoods status by impacting more than 700,000 smallholder farmers in the next seven years through activating the cashew nut value chain and increasing production to more than 200,000 tonnes annually.
“The cashew nut holds the promise for economic revival of rural parts of the Coast region and power agroprocessing. To make Kenya a leading player in the world cashew nut market, all the major stakeholders must act together and resolve the systemic bottlenecks grappling the sector,” said Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga.
Through initiating a local agroprocessing revolution, it is anticipated that this project will create 500,000 direct and indirect jobs along the value chain and generate more than $300 million (Sh30 billion) in forex earnings.
Kenya has an installed processing capacity of 45,000 tonnes a year of raw cashew, which is way above production level.
In Kenya, the cashew production has traditionally been one of the main sources of livelihoods for farmers in Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River Mombasa and Lamu counties.
A tonne is currently going for going Sh149,800, making it one of the most expensive agricultural produces in the world. But despite these juicy returns, farmers have nearly abandoned the crop.
They lack guidance, cannot access right planting materials, have no united front to push their agenda, and are grappling with ageing trees.
“My belief is that it is possible to transform the livelihoods of Kenyans in the coastal rural area and move them to a middle-income economic status through agriculture, specifically the cashew value chain,” Mahesh Patel, the chairman of EFF said.
The Foundation operates in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and has experience in multiple value chains, including cashew nut, sesame, Robusta coffee, pigeon pea, green gram, maize, sugar cane, rice, soybean, common bean, chickpea and groundnut.
The Foundation is running a similar project on the cashew value chain in Zambia.
It is banking on one of its major successes in lifting the lives of rice farmers in Tanzania and want to replicate the format in Kenya.
The organisation helped farmers in Kapunga Rice Project in Mbeya region of Tanzania to increase their yields from 800 kilogrammes to seven tonnes per hectare.
Teresiah Munga, head of Kalro centre in Mtwapa, said the agency will soon release four new varieties soon.
They are more high-yielding than the known types, the agency says.
“These new varieties have the ability to produce up to a hundred kilos in a year, which is way far above the current breeds that would hardly produce 20,” said Ms Munga.
Kenya’s production stands at a meagre 5,000 tonnes annually, compared to Tanzania’s 300,000 tonnes.
Prof Boga said the revival requires the creation of synergies between the national government, the counties, private sector, development partners, processors, and farmers.
He said farmers must replace their ageing trees with higher-yielding varieties and invest in specialist agronomy and services such as pruning, disease control and proper post-harvest management.
Mr Patel said his organisation will help farmers with the best agricultural practices that would ensure they swing back to profitability and make handsome returns from their crop.
Cashew is a tree crop of considerable economic importance on the Coast. There is also a potential for its cultivation in eastern and western regions of Kenya.
Apart from being a source of useful products and by-products for food, medicinal and industrial applications, cashew is also a useful shade tree, while ornamental and alley trees are suitable for the control of soil erosion.
Cashew nut production has remained under smallholder producers with less than two hectares of crop per household.
In a number of cases it is intercropped with other tree and food crops such as coconut, mango, citrus, maize, cassava and legumes.
In 2019, the global production of cashew nuts stood at 3.6 million metric tonnes dominated by Ivory Coast, India and Vietnam at 22 percent, 19 percent, and 18 percent respectively.
Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Tanzania, Mozambique, Indonesia, and Brazil also had significant production of cashew kernels.
In 2014, rapid growth of cashew cultivation in Ivory Coast made the country the top African exporter of the crop.
In Kenya, the reduction is due to farmer apathy brought about by low farm gate prices.
Whereas the factory gate price has been rising, it has been the opposite for farmers who are forced to go through the middlemen who are picking up the crop for a song.
Cashew trees are being felled for charcoal and wood fuel since farmers no longer tend the crop. Processors cannot get enough produce hence their factories are running at below capacity.
The crop is grown both for its fruits and nuts. According to Kalro, shells extracted from the roasted cashew nuts yield oil used as medicine, preservative and water proofing agent. The oil is also used in the manufacture of insulating varnishes and acid proof cement, tiles and ink.
Raw cashew apple is a valuable source of sugar, minerals and vitamins.
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