The overall cashew production in Africa increased during the 1950s and the mid 1970s when the continent was the prime producer of cashew nuts. However, from 1975 and for a period of fifteen years, there was a decline in cashew production throughout the continent due to a combination of biological, agronomic and socio-political factors. The decline in prices at the end of 1970s combined with the lower levels of production discouraged many farmers from planting cashew. However, since the early 1990s, production has continued to increase steadily and today, Africa accounts for about 36 per cent of world cashew production.
Although cashew was introduced to Nigeria more than 400 years ago, extensive cultivation started in the 1950s. The first Nigerian cashew plantation dates back to 1954 with 800ha in the present Enugu State and 200 ha in the western part of the country. From 1965 to 1990, cashew production was relatively static at 25,000 tonnes with estimated land area of 50,000ha in 1990.
Despite the initial problems, cashew cultivation has spread to 27 states of the country and in the past 12 years, production increased almost thirty fold from 30,000mt to 836,500mt from estimated land area of 366,000 ha in 2012.
Since, the liberalisation of the commodity market in 1986, many companies have ventured into cashew processing. Nigeria has recognised the potential economic value of cashew and has made a concerted effort to improve the production of the crop. In its efforts to increase cashew production, the Federal Government initiated a Cashew Development Programme under the Tree Crop Development Programme. The programme was initiated in 2001 to rehabilitate and resuscitate moribund plantations, train extension staff and farmers, provide and distribute inputs such as seedlings, agro-chemicals, etc. Other objectives of the programme were to promote quality control at primary (farm) level and the strengthening of management information system in the cashew sector.
Despite this, however, products of cashew tree (kernel and apple) are grossly under-utilised for income generation. There is still a lot of wastages of the fresh apples on farms since a negligible portion is consumed by harvesters.
Speaking in an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP recently in Abuja, the director-general of Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Dr Hussaini Doko Ibrahim listed the major factors limiting cashew nut production in Nigeria as old age of most trees; deforestation; low yielding varieties; dominance of small holdings dependence of most farmers on wild varieties; land acquisition problems; high cost of inputs; climatic conditions; disease; pest and fire outbreaks; high post-harvest loses; infrastructural constraints and quality; and market price of the product.
Ibrahim, however, noted that the agency, vested with the mandate to promote development and utilization of Nigeria’s industrial raw materials, has made several interventions over the years and entered various strategic partnerships to boost the nation’s cashew production.
According to him, “As agriculture is evolving towards a global system requiring highly qualitative and competitive commodities and products organised in value chains, RMRDC has initiated maintained and sustained a cashew development programme aimed at developing the value chain locally. Some of the industrial potentials of cashew which are being exploited by the council are cashew nut shell liquid, juice and roasted cashew nut. Cashew nut shell contains inedible cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL) which consists of 15 per cent of the gross weight, while the nut contains cashew nut kernel oil (CNKO) which is a sweet edible oil.
“In order to promote the sustainable supply of cashew to the processing plants, the council distributed 7,000 seedlings of improved cashew variety (Jumbo Cashew) to farms across the country during the 2015-2016 planting seasons.”
He further said the council in collaboration with the Kogi State University, Anyigba, established a 1 tonne/day cashew nut processing plant at the university for investment purposes, pointing out that the cashew processing plant fabricated and installed by AbodSuccess Investment Ltd, had since been producing cashew nuts on commercial basis.
“Likewise, the council collaborated with the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) to upgrade the cashew nut processing facility at the university. One tonne/day cashew nut processing plant was fabricated and installed by the council’s cashew consultant, AbodSuccess Investment Ltd at the university. After a successful test-run and training of workers, the facility was commissioned on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The plant has since commenced commercial production of cashew nuts. The council has also collaborated with Isowopo Cashew Farmers and Sellers Association for the establishment of one tonne/day cashew nut processing plant at Ikakumo, Ondo State,” he added.
The RMRDC boss added that the council also entered collaboration with the Vietnam Institute of Agricultural Sciences for Southern Vietnam for transfer of technology on the grafting of cashew trees, saying the technology had been perfected and widely deployed in Vietnam and had made Vietnam one of the competitive cashew producers globally.
“The major advantage of the technology is possibility of grafting old trees for increased production and productivity without any need to cut them down. This initiative if perfected locally as planned will obviate the need to cut down old cashew trees locally while at the same time increasing their productivity. As old age of cashew is a major limiting factor influencing yield locally, the deployment of this technology will increase cashew production by more than 25 per cent on annual basis,’ he stated.
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