Okwe Obi

Aside crude oil, that has been oiling the wheels of Nigeria’s economy over the past four decades, but which also expected to dry up in the coming years, agricultural sector stakeholders are optimistic that cashew production can also provide answers to Nigeria’s revenue challenges.

This is basically true when one realises out of the 36 states in the country, about 19 are deeply involved in commercial cashew farming, including Oyo, Enugu, Abia, Imo, Kogi, Osun, Ondo, Anambra, Kwara, Cross River, Benue, Akwa Ibom, Taraba, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, FCT, Ekiti, Ogun and Niger, with plantations estimated at about 200,000 to 300,000 hectares of land devoted to the commodity.

The commodity’s value chain includes cashew oil, kernel jam, juice, brandy, bread, ethanol, and gin. In Africa, Nigeria ranks 4th in terms of cashew production after Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique.

Even the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, who spoke at the 2020 Cashew Stakeholders/Export Summit in Abuja, organised by the Association of Cashew Farmers, Aggregators and Processors of Nigeria (ACFAP), admitted that the commodity is an export-oriented cash crop, which contribution to national export earnings has been on a steady increase since 2015.

Represented by the Director,  Federal Department, Karima  Babangida, he reeled out statistics, that “Nigeria has earned about $813 million (about N284.5 billion) between 2015 and 2017 from the exportation of cashew. In 2017, Nigeria produced about 220,000 metric tonnes which grew to 350,000 metric tonnes in 2019. It is fourth largest producer after Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique on the African continent.

“As a second non-oil export foreign exchange earner for the country, cashew export generated about $500 million in 2016 providing livelihood for over 300 to 500 families, mostly youths and women.

“The current national production is estimated at about 350,000 metric tonnes with an average yield of about 600kg per hectare as against the global average of 1,230kg per hectare. So, Nigeria has a lot of work to do to bridge that gap.

“The overall goal of global value chain is to promote policies, human capacity and technology to obtain the high yield potential of cashew. It will raise production to over 500,000 metric tonnes before the end of 2023 with enhancement from 600kg per hectare to an average of 800 to 1000kg per hectare. The primary objectives include to increase production, expand existing plantations, increase and improve storage capacities and develop effective market information in the sector.”

Despite the feat achieved thus far, President of ACFAP, Unekwuojo Edime, still believes that cashew value chain is still facing huge challenges ranging from unselected and poor quality planting materials, ageing plantations, poorly organised and uncoordinated stakeholders, lack of access to cashew-specific funding and inputs, low plantation productivity, low processing capacity plant and equipment, few incentives and absence of appropriate credit, as well as lack of real statistics.

According to him, “Nigeria currently gets little from the enormous potential in cashew sector as an economic growth driver and as a veritable tool for job creation and livelihood improvement. It is believed that this situation is directly associated with land acquisition problems, high cost of inputs, climatic conditions, disease, pest and fire outbreaks, high post-harvest losses, infrastructural constraints, quality and unstable market conditions.”

Unekwuojo assured that sufficient investment in cashew processing and export could fast track President Muhammadu Buhari plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.

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“In furtherance of the policy direction and the resolve of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty through job creation and economic diversification of the zero oil plan, we of ACFAP believe that cashew is critical and important to the achievement of this initiative of government.

“Therefore, there is need to look into the future with a sense of urgency and patriotism. There is also the urgent need for Nigeria to brace up, wake up and understand that we need to start earning significantly from the cashew industry through export and we must not subject our farmers to the dictates of others.

“As an association, we will continue to make reasonable demand for greater results and impact for more development and better quality of life for our farmers (primary producers) and the need for value addition at cottage level to enhance job creation. We are, therefore, seeking your support for the implementation of a strong Cashew Value Chain Development programme entrenched in transparent transactions to the benefit of all parties.”

In addition, he announced that an off-taker, TAK Integrated, has set in motion a plan to establish six cashew processing factories in different locations in Nigeria and has matched this plan with action by commencing the construction of these plants and by March 2020, the first of these six cashew processing plants is expected to be commissioned in Suleja, Niger State, and will be processing over 20,000mt  of raw cashew nut yearly before export,” he said.

To fast track development and job creation, the immediate past Minister of Defense, Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali, as part of his contribution to job creation, donated 20 hectares of land for the cultivation of cashew in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Dan-Ali, who is the grand patron of the association, noted that cashew business should not be taken for granted as it could change the economic fortunes of Nigerians.

“My personal contribution is to provide 20 hectares of land for farmers to plant cashew. With this, the nation will have much better input of cashew,” he said.

But the Chief Executive Officer of Agro and Allied Green Technologies Resources Centre, Emeka Okengwa, stated that 300 million cashew trees should be planted as soon as possible, failing which, “we are going to be singing to the choir.”

Speaking at the occasion, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nanono, announced that two processing plants in Oyo State and FCT have been completed and are awaiting commissioning by the ministry

He added that, “the current government will leave no stone unturned to create enabling environment that will guarantee a reasonable return in cashew agribusiness.”

The Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, noted that if all the suggestions were successfully implemented, it would reduce the task of Nigeria in achieving the SDGs because they are all related.

“What you are doing is currently linked to SDG1 on no poverty, SDG2 on zero hunger and SDG8 on decent jobs and economic growth. The 17 SDGs are interrelated and making progress in one means making progress in all. We will continue to support the initiative both in the public and the private sectors for the achievement of the goals in Nigeria.”