Factory workers sorting out cashewnuts. Photo courtesy.
Wondernuts Ltd, a cashewnut processing firm based in Kilifi County is urgently looking for willing farmers to grow the crop to meet its processing capacity of 5000 tonnes per year. This is after farmers in the region are reportedly producing less due to lack of clean planting materials.
The company which has dealt in cashewnut for 20 years is now processing only 2,000 tonnes a year and sometimes has to close down for long periods because of lack of the raw material.
“I am not considering opting out of the business, instead I would like to encourage farmers to engage in contract farming with us as the company is operating below capacity for over a decade now because of lack of raw nuts,” said Bobby Thomas, director of Wondernuts Ltd.
According to a 2013 tree census by Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate, there were two million cashew trees at the time, with 156,000 households directly depending on the crop for subsistence. Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu counties were once vibrant cashew producers.
However, the counties currently have a scattering of ageing trees that cannot guarantee the farmers better yields as before.
So far, cashew farmers in the region are few and scattered. In many places the trees are neglected and looking disease-ridden. Other farmers are considering other farming ventures to continue earning a leaving.
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To remedy the cashewnut worsening situation, e head of horticulture and industrial crops research at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Francis Muniu, says the current cashew trees in the coast region are ageing and cannot meet the required production to sustain economic growth.
“The trees are old and can no longer produce. However, at Kalro, we have new varieties that farmers have taken up and we believe that in a span of about three years, the story will change,” he said.
KALRO has therefore issued about 400,000 seedlings to farmers in the region. These clean planting materials can be accessed by farmers from KALRO’s Mtwapa (Industrial Crops Research Institute) or call +254-020-2024751.
“We understand that the aged trees are affected by powder-mildew disease which lowers the quality of production, but with the new seedlings, farmers are assured of good produce if they observe good production practices.”
In June this year European Union also launch a Sh240mn project targeting 15,000 cashewnut and sesame farmers in Kilifi, Kwale and Lamu counties as part of the efforts to revive the sector.
Notably, Kenya Cashewnuts Factory collapsed 20 years ago and was entrusted under a new management, the Millennium Nuts Company.
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Wondernuts Ltd which exports its products to the US and Europe as its biggest markets buys a kilo of the nuts at Sh100 ($1), which is the local market price at a time global markets offer Sh800 per kilo.
Currently, Tanzania is the largest producer of cashewnut in the region and the eight largest grower of cashewnut in the world and ranks fourth in Africa.
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Wondernuts Ltd can be reached on +254-412318933