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Cashew farmers in Kogi lament challenges despite economic benefits

In Kogi State, cashew farming is boosting people’s income and creating employment; hence it has been adjudged the highest producer of the fruit in Nigeria.…

In Kogi State, cashew farming is boosting people’s income and creating employment; hence it has been adjudged the highest producer of the fruit in Nigeria. But farmers are lamenting over several challenges militating against the business.

In addition to Kogi, other states like Enugu, Anambra, Oyo, Kwara and Osun states are said to be  having the largest production of cashew nuts in the country.

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Alhaji Abdullah Yusuf, a cashew plantation owner in Dekina Local Government, said production of cashew nuts had strengthened the economy of Kogi East.

He said the soil in the area was rich for tree cropping, stressing that it accounted for the thriving cashew nuts business there.

According to Oche Yakubu, the chairman of the Palm Oil Association in the state and a cashew merchant from Olamoboro Local Government, the eastern district, the state is naturally endowed with rich soil for economic trees: cashew, palm tree, locust beans trees, ogbono trees and its likes.

Among others, cashew nuts production is seen at a larger scale in Dekina, Ofu, Igala-Mela/Odolu, Olamaboro and Idah local government areas of the state.

It was established that harvesting cashew nuts has a relationship with climatic forces, and as such, gathering of riped nuts  peak from February to April each year in this region of the state.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that during this period of the year, cashew farmers are said to be kings of the land as they wield enough influence financially among their peers/colleagues, dictating the pace of things socially and physically.

Anyigba, a rising economic hub in Dekina Local Government of the state, is said to be the centre (depot) for cashew nut merchants, both within and outside the state.

The eastern region of the state has also been home to cashew merchants from Asian nations, including South Korea, Vietnam and China, all scrambling to purchase directly from local farmers.

A cashew merchant, Yakubu, who claimed to have a large cashew orchard at Ade in Olamaboro Local Government, said foreigners and others flooded the area because their products had been classified as one of the best in the world.

There is an indication that cashew farming can be highly profitable. It was indicated in a report in 2021 that an average cashew nut export price amounted to $1,266 per tonne, with an increase of 6.3 per cent against the previous year.

However, according to a report from the eastern part of the state, mixed feelings seem to be trailing cashew farming since the last two to three years.

It was learnt that the foreign merchants that swarmed the area like locusts have disappeared from the scene and prices of the products nosedived, setting a lull into the business for the past two to three years.

Four challenges are said to have dealt a big blow to the flourishing cashew business in the state for the past three years—poverty; nature, government interference and sharp practices.

According to cashew nut merchants and producers, these forces have created “artificial market glut” in cashew nut business in the past few years.

Oche Yakubu, who owns a large cashew orchard, said poverty made farmers not to give the necessary treatment to their plantations to maintain or increase yields.

He said cashew farmers needed to fumigate their farms with necessary chemicals at a given time, stressing that lack of such care had affected most plantations, resulting in poor yields.

“In most cases, most farmers would not reinvest money from seasonal harvests and sales in the next cropping season.  This is because before then they would have diverted the money to solve nagging challenges,” he said.

Recounting his experience, he said, “Young cashew trees can fare better in yields in the first two to three years of production. Once it is aged, it needs treatment to maintain good yield, except the wild ones.”

Reacting to the situation, the state government said its interference in cashew business was to help in solving the hiccup experienced in its value chain.

But some cashew merchants and plantation owners who spoke on the condition of anonymity said unnecessary taxes and levies introduced into the system were too much burden to bear without running into losses.

The crisis of an alleged obnoxious government policy peaked in 2019 when the National Cashew Association of Nigeria (NCAN), Kogi State chapter, under the leadership of Elder Sule Ochala, accused the state government of using all manner of taxations, harassment and intimidation to strangulate cashew farmers and marketers out of business.

The association was said to have issued a 14-day ultimatum to the state government to reverse all the imposed taxes, but to no avail. The crisis has lingered on with different dimensions.

Cashew farmers also stated that part of their woes was created by seasonal unstable climate in the region.

“Cashew trees need very little rain during flowering. Heavy and persisting stormy rain destroys the flowers. And the yields will be very poor eventually. In the two past seasons we experienced severe bad weather, which contributed to poor yields,” Alaji Etubi, a plantation owner from the Egume area in the eastern part of Kogi said.

Again, Yakubu, cashew merchant and the state chairman of Palm Oil Producers Association, said the last straw that brought lull into the business of cashew in the state was the alleged sharp practices of some of the middlemen or product owners and merchants.

He stated that the foreign merchants shifted their focus from cashew products in the state when they discovered that some of the farmers had started adulterating it with foreign materials to increase its weight at the scale so as to make more money.

“The middlemen would mix the cashew nuts with stones, pebbles and its likes to double their weight at the scale.

“This practice was later discovered by the foreign merchants, so they abandoned our products for two to three years.

“It was just last year that the merchants restored the market relationship with us fully and business has started picking up gradually,” he said.

He also lamented the lack of assistance from the state government, stressing that most plantation owners were retired civil servants, security agents or low-income earners that could not afford to give the necessary care to their cashew trees to get high yields.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that because of the lucrative nature of the business, the people of Okun, the Yoruba-speaking area of the state, are replacing their cassava farms with cashew plantations.

According to Ojo Demola from Kabba in Kabba/Ijumu Local Government Area, the people have realised the importance of cashew farming, especially its huge foreign exchange potential and decided to venture into it.

Demola believes that since their soil can sustain tree crops like cocoa, kola, mango, orange and  guava, producing at a great level, cashew trees would survive with high yield.

Meanwhile, in their June meeting in Lokoja, cashew farmers and stakeholders in the state had called for the establishment of a cashew production and development village.

Also, the trade promotion advisor, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mrs Amina Abdulmalik stated, “The NEPC has targeted cashew because it constitutes the major agricultural commodity in Kogi State, with huge potentials that are yet to be fully maximised.

“A recent data sourced from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that apart from aluminum alloy, urea and re-exports oil and gas, majority of Nigerian export in 2021 remained raw unprocessed products like crude oil, cocoa and sesame seeds.”

Another stakeholder, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), stated that fund had been arranged for a cashew processing industry in the state.

A director in the apex bank, Mallam Hassan Dauda, who represented the financial institution at the stakeholders’ meeting, encouraged cashew farmers in Kogi to use the opportunity to access fund.

While noting that the attitude of the Kogi State Government towards cashew farming was not encouraging, the CBN urged government at all levels to ensure that cashew industry was encouraged in their different domains, adding, “The Central Bank of Nigeria is set to assist cashew farmers in the state.”

The cashew fruit, which can be eaten raw, has been scientifically proved to be a reliable source of protein, fatty acid and minerals. It is also said to be useful in the confectionery and bakery industry as the fruit is rich in vitamin C and useful for wine production.