If there is any aspect of agriculture that has touched the lives of farmers in Kogi state positively more than any other under the current dispensation, it is cashew plantation farming. ELEOJO IDACHABA, who was in the state recently, writes that despite the economic meltdown and unpaid salaries in the state, many are smiling to the banks.
For David Adama, a farmer and pensioner in Ofu local government area of Kogi state, if there is any aspect of agriculture that has positively impacted on him and other farmers in the face of the harsh economic realities faced by workers and pensioners, it is cashew farming. He said the new facelift brought about by the sudden surge in demand for cashew nuts and its apple all over the world has boosted it cultivation in the state which has also impacted positively on the general well being of the people.
According to him, within the last three years poverty alleviation and economic empowerment was made possible through the sale of cashew nuts locally harvested from farms and sold to buyers who throng the area for purchase. With a booming sale for the product, many farmers smile to the banks unlike before.
In a chat with Blueprint Weekend recently, he said, “What oil is to the people in the Niger Delta is what cashew has become for us. No one is even interested in the fruit but the nut which is an attraction to business people from places like Enugu, Kano, Onitsha, Abuja and Kaduna.”
This is not only peculiar to Adama and others in Ofu LGA. In Dekina local government area also in the Eastern Senatorial district, the story is the same. A visit by Blueprint Weekend to Global Resources Limited, an indigenous cashew processing company Located in Ochaja in association with a US based agro firm, Techno Serve revealed a whole lot of activities brought about by the burgeoning cashew farming revolution. Speaking on the innovation to process cashew apple into juice, the Chairman of the company, Stephen Ahiaba said, “The initiative apart from adding value to cashew production in the state is part of the efforts to improve on the national economy and curb unemployment among youths and rural women.”
Speaking further, he said, “Farmers in the rural areas will no longer harvest cashew nuts and waste the apples as they have now been trained on how to preserve them for our company to process”, he noted.
He, therefore, noted that the company would empower cashew farmers in the rural areas through training and provision of good agronomy practice, disease detection and control, packaging and marketing of farm produce.
Investigation shows that stretching from Kabba in the Western Senatorial district through Okene in the Central Senatorial district to Idah, Anyigba, Ankpa all in the Eastern Senatorial district, large scale cashew plantation adorn the road sides with many farm plots taken over by the plantation and imposing warehouses for storing them for onward processing and import. With such large scale cashew plantation over-taking the entire land mass, land which hitherto was a common property in the state is now a highly sought- for commodity. For instance, a cashew farmer in Ugwolawo, Elder Ejeba Adaji, said lands are no longer easy to acquire due to the new awareness about the importance of cashew farming. He said, “Right now in Kogi state especially Igala land, gone were the days when anyone can easily acquire lands for any purpose. Right now, only the chiefs allocate land as against the past. This has also affected the price.”
According to the state commissioner for Agriculture Kehinde Oloruntoba, who was speaking on the sidelines of agricultural revolution in the state, “Considering the boom of cashew farming in Kogi state, the federal government has concluded plans to establish 10,000 hectares of the plantation in this state.” He spoke recently in the palace of the Attah of Igala, HRM Michael Ameh Oboni in Idah.
According to him, the purpose of the large scale plantation largely located in Ofu local government area is in consideration of the comparative advantage the state has recorded over the years as the best producer of cashew nuts in Nigeria. The government, he said intends to acquire the land in order to send a clear message that there is a new impetus towards agricultural revolution in the state.
Prior to this time, it was estimated that over N50 billion worth of cashew apples are wasted annually in the state due to neglect. According to Mr Ahiaba, who is also the state chairman of Cashew Producers Association of Nigeria, this waste is attributed to the absence of the right and needful technology to translate the waste into gains.
“About 50,000 metric tons of cashew apples rot away in farms in Kogi state due to lack of technology until an indigenous agro-product processing outfit delved into it to process the juice for consumption.”
Most cashew trees, it was found, start bearing fruits in the third or fourth year of being planted and are likely to reach their maturity yield by the seventh year, if all the conditions are favourable. The average yield of nuts of a mature tree is in the range of 7-11kg per annum, although the tree is capable of living for 50 to 60 years.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, it is believed that in 1995, the total land under cashew tree cultivation in Nigeria was put at 40,000 hectares of which about 60 percent of the holdings are owned by peasant farmers. The crop has therefore been on a steady increase from 30,000 metric tons in 1990 to 636,000 metric tons in 2006. This increase was due mainly to the involvement of private entrepreneurs, federal and state governments, co-operative societies and affluent farmers.
Nigeria, Vietnam, India and Ivory Coast are the major countries involved in large scale cashew production. In Nigeria, however, states of Kogi, Benue, Enugu, Kwara, Kaduna and Niger lead in the production of the crop locally.
Cashew has medicinal value
Cashew tree is cultivated both for food and medicinal value.
The consumption of its apples as well as the nuts, according to Mrs Eucharia Umezue, a food nutritionist at Kubwa General Hospital in Abuja, is useful in weight management, prevention of gall stones, bone development and prevention of bone-related diseases, reduction of heart diseases and other numerous health benefits.
At the moment, 75 percent of cashew nuts produced in Nigeria are exported because there are few companies involved in local processing. The nuts, according to investigation, are well accepted in Europe and in the United States because of the high quality yields.
What the national association says
Recently, the national body of cashew growers association of Nigeria said that current global trend shows there is an increase in the demand for cashew. The association’s national spokesman, Sotonye Anga said that this was due to good agricultural practices and improvements introduced to farmers in 2014.
He said, “We are glad to witness the prosperity of cashew farmers in Nigeria. It goes a great deal to show that cashew growers association is working and in collaboration with government and our development partners. The current global trend shows an increasing and strong demand for cashew and Nigeria will continue to deliver its quota and remain relevant in the cashew world.”
Presently in Nigeria, cashew products in the form of the apple and nuts are still under-utilised for income generation. This is because even though there is a new burst of awareness about its demand in the market, there is still much wastages of the fresh apple in many farms since only a negligible portion is consumed by the harvesters.