Eating Cashew has immense health benefit – RMRDC DG

The Director General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) Professor Hussain Doko Ibrahim, says the health benefit of cashew to the body is immense. In this interview with BINTA SHAMA, Doko Ibrahim, discloses the richness of cashew, its abundance in Nigeria and how it can improve the agricultural sector.

Tell us a little about cashew and its value chain

Cashew, popularly known is also anarcadium ocidentale, belongs to the order Sapindales, family Anacardiaceae and genus Anarcadium. The Anacardiaceae family consists of 75 genera and 700 species. Botanically, they include primary trees and shrubs with resin canals, resinous bark and clear milky exudates. Study states that the anacardium contains 8 species of which cashew is the most important economically. The cashew tree is indigenous to Brazil and it is an evergreen nut bearing tropical plant that grows in latitude 15°N and south of the equator. It is a multipurpose tree crop that is exploited for economic and industrial development in countries such as Tanzania, Benin Republic, Brazil, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea Basau, Ghana, Mozambique, Vietnam, Philippines, India and Sri-Lanka. It is not new as Nigeria is blessed with an abundance of fertile soil and suitable climate for leading production of a vast number of agricultural commodities and the cashew is not left out. As a result, Nigeria can join the league of economically developed nations by focusing on the improvement of the agricultural sector. And one of the major agricultural produce of very great industrial potential in Nigeria is the cashew. The overall cashew production in Africa increased during the 1950’s and the mid-70’s, 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 the 70’s combined with the lower levels of production discouraged many farmers from planting cashew. However, since the early 90’s, production has continued to increase steadily and today, Africa accounts for about 36% of the world cashew production.

What are the benefits of consuming cashew nuts?

The cashew nuts can be consumed by anyone and everyone. Research shows that among the major advantages of cashew nuts, is the high calorie value. The cashew is dressed with soluble dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and numerous health-promoting phyto-chemicals that help protect from diseases. The nut is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic and palmitic acid that help to lower Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and increase High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). Cashew is very rich in sources of minerals like manganese, iron, copper, zinc, potassium and selenium which are all concentrated in the nuts. A handful of cashew nuts a day in the diet would provide enough of these minerals and prevent deficiency diseases. Cashew is also rich in many essential vitamins such as  pantothenic acid (vitamin. B-5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamine (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are important in the sense that the body requires them for external sources as they are essential for metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates at cellular levels. The nuts also contain small amount of Zea-xanthin, an important flavonoid antioxidant which are selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes. It is thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV ray filtering functions and helps prevent Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) in the elderly. In addition, the cashew tree’s leaves and bark as well as the cashew apple, possess herbal health benefits that fights against bacteria and germs, diarrhea, drying secretions, increase libido, reduces fever, blood sugar and pressure. Like other nuts, the cashew has obesity and gallstone fighting property. Presence of high amount of magnesium in the nut ensures healthy bones and teeth structure while copper produces energy and increases capability of antioxidant defences. It has a relatively high beneficial fat content, this is due to the agreeable fat ratio in the nut, 1:2:1 for saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated, respectively. The fatty acid profile contributes to good health through phytosterols, tocopherols and sqaulene, all of which lower the risk of heart disease. With no cholesterol, cashew nuts is a healthy fat food for patients with heart conditions. In the raw form, it contains 21% of the daily recommended value of magnesium. With 37.7% of the daily recommended value of mono-unsaturated fats, cashews can reduce triglyceride levels in diabetes, thereby, protect them from further complications.

What is the production of cashew like in Nigeria?

Cashew was introduced in Nigeria over 400 years ago but extensive cultivation commenced in 1954 with the first Nigerian cashew plantation with 800 ha in the present Enugu State and 200 ha in the Western part of the country. From 1965 to1990, 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, and in the past 12 years, production increased almost thirty fold from 30,000mt to 836,500mt from an estimated land area of 366,000ha in 2012. Morphologically, the architecture of cashew tree makes it a foremost crop for reclaiming land area to enhance agricultural production through prevention of desertification and soil erosion. In Nigeria, genetic variability exists in cashew germplasm, some of the most important morphological distinguishing characteristics of the commodity are nut size, form of tree, apple colour (yellow, orange,or red) disease resistance, fruit bearing capacity, etc. There are six different nut size classes that can be used for cashew characterisation. Presently, majority of Nigerian cashew tree produces small to medium sized nuts supposedly obtained from Asian genetic sources, while the remaining 20% of trees are grown from large sized  (Brazilian) nuts. Cultivars with high kernel grade, W180, 210 and 240 which attracts higher prices in the world market are presently recommended for cultivation.

What is the Council putting in place to develop this sector?

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 potentials of cashew which are being exploited by the Council are Nut shell Liquid, juice and roasted cashew nut. The cashew nut shell contains inedible Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL) which consists of 15% of the gross weight, while the nut contains Cashew Nut Kernel Oil (CNKO) which is a sweet edible oil. The pressed kernel cake from CNKO extraction process is suitable for use in human and animal feeds. Inorder to promote the sustainable supply of cashew to the processing plants, the Council distributed 7000 seedlings of improved cashew variety (jumbo cashew) to farms across the country during the 2015-2016 planting seasons. The project was handled by AbodSuccess Investment Ltd, with numerous beneficiaries: Christian Care for Widows, Widowers, the Aged and Orphans Gwarimpa, Abuja, National Cashew Association of Nigeria Ilorin Kwara State, Kogi State University Anyigba, African Foundation for Agricultural Development Gudu District Abuja, Danejo farms Nigeria Limited, Babbam Tunga Niger State and a host of others. The Council in collaboration with the Kogi State University, established a 1ton per day cashew nut processing plant at the University for investment purposes. The project was commissioned in October, 2010 and has since been producing cashew nuts on a commercial basis. In the same vein, we collaborated with others like the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Isowopo Cashew Farmers and Sellers Association in Ogun State, to further produce and upgrade the cashew nuts facility amongst many initiatives. However, there’s need to improve the processing and transformation opportunities through the introduction of appropriate technologies to diversify products from cashew.