Ideas & Debate

Climate change, low returns killing the appetite for cashew farming

cashew

A farmer inspects a young cashew nut tree on his farm at Tezo village in Kilifi County. FILE PHOTO | NMG

geraldandae

Summary

  • The Nuts and Oil Directorate of Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) says that 28 percent of the current cashew nut trees are senile, in what the agency is attributing to effects of the climate change.
  • Pests and diseases have also affected the current cashew nut trees

Fatuma Salim, 56, recalls with nostalgia how cashew nut farming was a booming business in Kwale when she was a young girl. Not any more. The effects of climate change and exploitation from processors have turned the once white gold of the Coast into a source of misery.

Whereas key stakeholders have attributed the collapse of the once vibrant industry to the liberalisation of the agriculture sector following the introduction of the structural adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in early 1980s, the vagaries of weather have negatively impacted the crop too.

For Ms Salim, the production has been dwindling year after year, which made her cut the remaining cashew trees that were on her farm.

“In the 1960s and the 1970s production was high, we were financially stable, and our co-operative societies were strong,” said Ms Swale.

“I remember when I was a young girl we would carry a lot of cashew nuts for sale to the market but it is no longer the case. What we have now are the sweet memories of the yester years,” she added.

The Nuts and Oil Directorate of Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) says that 28 percent of the current cashew nut trees are senile, in what the agency is attributing to effects of the climate change.

Pests and diseases have also affected the current cashew nut trees. Matano Ali, a farmer in Kwale, paints a clearer pictu re of how the climate change has had an adverse effect on cashew nut farming.

Mr Ali said even though the government has tried to provide them with a new seed variety to withstand the effects of the climate change, the results haven’t been impressive as they do not yield as much as the indigenous variety.

“I have tried the new variety and the results were not that good. In fact a good number of the new trees that I planted did not bear fruit,” he said.

The farmers say that it is very rare nowadays to get more than three kilogrammes of cashew nuts from a single tree compared with more than 100 kilos that one would get 40 years ago.

But Anthony Muriithi, the AFA acting director-general, said the directorate has embarked on a programme that will see the old orchards get rehabilitated through appropriate demonstrations and farmer support in all cashew nut-growing areas.

Mr Muriithi said the directorate was aggressively undertaking product development and value addition and promotion of sustainable cashew nut production and productivity.

“In future, the authority in conjunction with value chain players will endeavour to develop and implement a comprehensive cashew nuts revival strategy, undertake research, promote extension services and ensure market linkage with farmers and agro-processors,” he said.

Marketing of the crop has also been another challenge to the farmers as brokers and processors have been benefiting the at the expense of farmers.

For instance, farmers sell a kilo of raw cashew for Sh40 to brokers. Five kilos of these nuts make a kilo of processed cashew. At the supermarket, a kilo of this commodity sells for over Sh2,000.

James Muiya, who runs jubilee Cashew Nuts Investment in Kilifi County, say there is a lot of work that is involved in coming up with the final product.

“There are a lot of expenses involved in making the end product and it’s not as easy as people think. Each stage of production involves money,” says Mr Muiya.

Mr Muriithi said value addition in the cashew sub-sector has greatly been inhibited by a lack of appropriate and affordable technologies, which has seen farmers sell whole raw nuts that fetch very low revenue in the market.

He said the directorate was promoting the formation of cooperatives and establishment of collection centres, as part of a strategy aimed at increasing the bargaining power of farmers and reduce the influence of middlemen.

In 1974 as the cashew nut industry was at its best. The government established Kenya Cashew Nut Company, a state parastatal in Kilifi to cater to the welfare of farmers in the region.

The government expanded the membership of the company by selling shares to various players.

John Safari, who was the managing director of the company between 1982 and 1987, recalled how farmers then were able to meet their financial obligations and contribute to the development of the region.

Mr Safari said farmers have been forced to cut down their trees because of poor prices, after the collapse of the parastatal.

“Farmers were left in the hands of the cartels and they could no longer thrive in cashew business because of poor prices,” said Mr Safari.

He also lamented that cashew nut are no longer sold in grades as it used to be the case previously forcing farmers to earn low returns from their venture.

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