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Rising demand for cashew nuts re-opens markets for farmers

By Christopher Owuor
Tuesday, May 19th, 2020
Cashew nut fruits. Photo/Courtesy

Mwangi Mumero 

Increased global demand coupled with the need for a healthy lifestyle, has stimulated the revival of cashew nuts production in Kenya.

Industry players, the government and donor organisations such as the European Union (EU) have also invested in the revival of local cashew nut production.

The EU alone imported nuts worth €1.6 billion in 2017 (Sh184 billion) as global demand rises by 53 per cent since 2010. The youth consume the nut as snacks, but the elderly prefer it raw. 

The nuts are also used in making pastries at industrial level. Research has established that cashew nuts have high levels of iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus and manganese.

It is believed that the nuts help to control high blood pressure, stomach problems and enhance blood circulation. 

Cashew nuts are also rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids that promote healthy levels of good cholesterol.

These fats aid in better glucose management for persons with diabetes while copper assists in body energy production and provides flexibility in blood vessels, bones and joints.  

“Local men believe it also boosts virility as well as eases stomach discomfort, which is why the nut is in high demand locally,” says Ali Hussein, a consumer in Mombasa.  

Low production

Cashew nuts are grown in coastal regions that experience high diurnal temperatures. According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo), the nuts grow best at an altitude of 600 metres or less with a temperature range of between 24 and 28 degrees Celsius.

Rainfall of between 500mm to 1,200 mm is ideal, with long spells of four to five months dry weather required for flowering and fruiting.

Farmers in Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu counties grow the nuts, but ageing trees coupled with a State ban on exports in 2009 has decimated production. Low prices and exploitation by middle men demotivates growers. 

“Farmers need strong guarantees to move back to farming cashew nuts as many switched to cotton, mangoes and coconuts,” said Joseph Mutuko, a farmer in Msambweni, Kwale county.

About 20 per cent of about 2.4 million old cashew nuts trees at the Coast are no longer productive.

Low yields and poor quality due to old trees and poor agronomic practises in the last decade have lowered production to 5kg per tree against a potential 30 kg.

In Kenya, production currently stands at about 25,000 tonnes annually, far below the 1978 peak production of 38,000 tonnes.

This production represents a meagre 0.6 per cent of the global output, yet, the local industry employs about 70,000 farmers.

A report by Kenya’s Nut and Oil Directorate says land under the crop fell from 28,758 hectares in 2015 to 21,284 in 2016 as output plunged from 18,907 to 11,404 tonnes.

Experts say the cashew nut tree is drought-resistant, with several benefits.  These include mitigating climate change, nutritional value, providing a steady source of revenue and jobs and a worthy investment for future of East African households.

Revival efforts are currently underway in Kenya, with the EU giving $2.4 million (Sh240 million) to boost planting of new trees in Kilifi, Kwale and Lamu counties. 

Through Ten Senses Africa Company,  EU has funded propagation of seedlings, provision of extension services and buying of nuts. 

“The seedlings are procured by the county governments on behalf of farmers. A seedling costs Sh100,” said John Amatole, the firm’s business development manager.

Fair trade certificate 

Launched in June 2018, the project has made remarkable progress, having distributed 450,000 high-yielding seedlings to farmers in Coast counties and obtained the fair trade certification of 15,000 smallholder farmers to access high-value markets.

Ten Senses Africa in collaboration with Farm Africa, an international non-governmental organisation active in Kenya, are assisting in establishing three cashew seedling nurseries, training farmers’ on fair trade and organic certification and in providing incentives to youth and women.

“I have noted a considerable increase in production from pruned trees. So far, I have harvested 400kg of cashew nuts and sold to Ten Sense at Sh75 per kilogramme,” said Anna Jeremiah Nduku, a farmer in Kwale.

The Kilifi county government, in partnership with donors, is also building a cashew nut factory at the Export Processing Zone, Mtwapa.

The Ministry of Agriculture has also subsidised the distribution of over 350,000 seedlings in the region to boost supply of improved, grafted seedlings. 

Karlo also recently issued about 400,000 seedlings to farmers. “The crop should be on its way for sustainable economic production,” said Francis Muniu, Karlo’s head of Horticulture and Industrial Crops Research.