Nut processors pledge to aid farmers boost output

The African Cashew Alliance (ACA) and Nut Processor Association of Kenya (NUTPAK) have signed a pact to increase nut production and processing in East Africa, in a drive to address the industry's dwindling returns and lack of value addition, which is seeing Kenya lose over Sh1bn a year in unprocessed nuts.

The new partnership will bring in technology from Mozambique, which boasts of over 100 years of experience in cashew nut growing, and better seedlings from the Naliende Research Centre in Tanzania.

Africa's cashew nut market has suffered limited returns despite its scale, with millions of rural farmers in Africa cultivating the crop but most of it being processed outside the continent. Africa is responsible for a third of the world’s cashew crop, but 90 per cent of its production is exported in raw nut form to India and Vietnam, where the value almost doubles through processing. Most of it is then shipped to European and American markets.

In Kenya, the set price per kg of unprocessed cashew nuts stands at Sh45, but the price per kg of processed nut in India is equivalent to Sh200. Moreover, despite having the best processing factories in the region, Kenya’s production is still low at 13,000 tonnes a year, compared to and Mozambique’s 79,000 tonnes and Tanzania’s 98,000 tonnes.

Tanzania is one of the world's leading producers of cashew nuts accounting for over a third of world production, while Kenya is the next largest in East Africa, accounting for some 3 per cent of world cashew exports. Just 5 per cent of Kenya's production is consumed in the country as processed nuts, with 95 per cent of the crop going to exports.

However, the country ash the capacity to produce and earn far more from the nut industry. Currently fragmented, it enjoys links between producers, processors and consumers. But the new partnership aims to link producers and processors to ensure better profits for farmers through being able to sell directly.

The memorandum, which envisions harmonized trade between Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, also seeks to improve the regulatory and business environment for cashew nut production in the region, facilitate regional trade, and increase the yield and quality of the crop. The Alliance will later in the year be holding the 7th annual cashew nut conference in Benin that will address the challenges faced in the cashew nut industry in all African countries.

Kenya currently stands at 3 per cent in terms of cashew nut trade, but we are relieved to have found a reliable partner with who we can trust to help us develop the trade. Our aim will be to reduce the trade tariffs that prevent African countries from trading with fellow African Countries as per the Maputo Declaration of 2010 which allow for free agricultural trade among ratifying members,said the Head of Bilateral and the AGOA unit in the Ministry of Trade Joseph Kosure during the signing.

There has been spirited efforts by both government and financial institutions to resuscitate the glory of the once booming cashew nut industry. Data from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) show there are about two million cashew nut trees in the Mombasa region, each producing an average 5kg of nuts every season. This translates to 10,000 tonnes per season.

But if proper farming techniques are applied and new high yielding varieties planted, each tree can produce 25-kg a year. KARI has already developed 14 high yielding varieties, which have the potential to increase production 5-fold. The new joint initiative now aims to increase production by replacing more than 23 per cent of over-age trees. Under the Nuts Revitalization and Expansion program, farmers are now replacing old trees with new trees, with the government now having injected some Sh12m to supply 200,000 seedlings to farmers.

Plans are also in top gear to to establish new cashew farming regions in Tharaka-Nithi County in Central Kenya as a way of expanding production beyond the predominant Kwale County in Mombasa.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter