Excitement as cashew farmers expect bountiful harvest

All looks good for cashew farmers as they look forward to bountiful harvest barring unforeseen natural or man-made causes, SUNNY IDACHABA writes on the experiences of Kogi cashew farmers.

Cashew farmers, all over the country, are anticipating a bountiful harvest season as they expect to all smile to the banks in no distant times. 

In states like Kogi, Benue, Enugu, Niger, Nasarawa and the FCT, cashew farmers look forward to this period every year in anticipation of the harvest and subsequent sales of the nuts.

This expectation, however, could be dashed as a result of natural, and unavoidable factors being put on the way of farmers especially in Kogi state.

In Kogi state, cashew plantation had for years remained the major economic trees for which many are willing to go extra miles to secure their plantation because of the economic benefits.

Nigeria’s cashew production

As at today, statistics reveals that Nigeria is one of India’s biggest cashew nut suppliers as the nation generates approximately N23 billion yearly.

Investment in cashew business therefore preserves capital inflow and according to business experts, it pays more interests than bank savings accounts as its demand rises continually, thus making it a top export crop in Nigeria. 

Statistics further reveals that India, Vietnam and Cote d’Ivoire used most cashew nuts in 2020, accounting for 72 per cent of world consumption.

Philippines, Mali, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Nigeria, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau accounted for another 22%. In 2012, Vietnam imported $1.4billion and India spent $1.1billion in cashew nuts, making the billion-dollar industry open for business.

To that extent, people are prepared to pay a premium price for cashew nuts.

A former president of the Nigerian Cashew Farmers Association, Tola Faseru, said exporters made $300 million in 2016 and $350 million in 2017. “Cashew has a return on investment of up to 55 per cent and returns yearly after 35 years.

Cashew nuts industry is defined by dollar value because most of the people engaged are exporting it. Increasing monetary value indicates your farm earns more.

Cashew farming is thus always a desirable crop to invest in since the price of cashew nuts continues growing every year. Even the same bottle quantity of cashew is about three times the price of a bottle of fried groundnut,” he noted.

As the world is in dire need of cashew and its nuts, there is a need to protect local farmers whose interest is based only in subsistence farming in order to meet their needs and cushion the effects of the biting economic realities in the country.

NEPC confirms growing market

According to the Nigeria Exports Promotion Council (NEPC), an agency responsible for marketing of finished products outside the shores of Nigeria, the country is one of the major and growing players in the cashew industry with rising market share in global cashew production.

The agency said that it has an annual average production increase of 5% and it is projected to go only upwards. 

“By 2030, we would produce 300,000 metric tonnes of cashew. We have a relatively long cashew producing season which spans from December to June. Cashew is stored, so exporting goes on all year around. Supply is therefore guaranteed.

“All exporting companies comply with most important food safety standards (SPS). Adherence to best practices and food safety at all steps in the value chain (farmer àmerchant à processor à exporter).

“Nigerian cashew boasts of excellent qualities such as good nut count, high kernel output ratio, excellent moisture content and less defective nuts.”

It said further that, “Nigerian cashew sector is dominated by smallholder farmers numbered at about 25,000 and some commercial plantations, with an average cultivated area of 325,000 hectares, local processing industry is growing gradually while there is a significant rise in export due to increased awareness of export potential and processing opportunities.

“Other actors in the ecosystems include local buying agents, processors, exporters and service providers. The industry employs mostly women constituting about 70 per cent of the workforce, mainly working in cashew processing.”

Farmers raise concerns

It’s worrisome that farmers under the aegis of Kogi State Farmers and Buyers Forum of Nigeria are already reading the negative hand writings on the walls as hurdles in the form of artificial barriers were being put on their way to realising the gains from their sweat. 

In precise terms, some people acting as ‘agents’ of the state government have come up with multiple tax burdens on the product such that both the farmers and willing buyers generate little or nothing from the sale of the product.

The are appealing to relevant authorities of the state government, especially the Kogi state Governor, Ahmed Usman Ododo, to intervene regarding the planned increase of produce tax from N30,000 to N90,000 per truck as against what operates in other states where cashew is also grown in commercial quantities.

This appeal was contained in a statement signed by the Spokesperson, Kogi State Farmers and Buyers Forum of Nigeria, Barrister Ibrahim Adam, in Lokoja recently.

The forum cried out to the state government to stop suffocating them, saying they could no longer bear the burden of multiple taxation in the state.

They also called on President Bola Tinubu to direct the ministry of agriculture to address the challenge of multiple taxation, as according to them, they are being chocked.

According to the statement, “The Produce Inspection Department (PID) in Kogi state charges the highest inspection fee in the country at N30,000 per truck, while other states such as Kano, Gombe, Katsina, Yobe, and others charge significantly lower fees.

“The breakdown is as follows: Kogi PID N30,000, Kano PID N5000, Gombe PID N5,000, Katsina PID N3,000, Yobe PID N2,000, Nasarawa PID N20,000, Benue PID N25,000, Oyo PID N20,000, Niger PID N10,000, Bauchi PID N5,000, Jigawa PID N3,000, Yola PID N4,000, Kaduna PID N7,000, and Osun PID N10,000.

“Other unexplained receipts, which amount to multiple taxation imposed on Kogi state cashew buyers, have this breakdown of the various levies: interstate levy, aka haulage fee, N13,000, IML N5,000, loading and offloading fee N12,000, pass N5,000, state environmental fee N6,000, local government environmental fee N5,000, and local government departmental fee N10,000.

“All these levies are from Kogi State Board of Internal Revenue and there are also numerous road blocks under the auspices of produce extorting motorists and harassing drivers and buyers carrying these goods cashew from farm gate carrying to the warehouse for sale, some of the boys are even carrying guns and other dangerous weapons scaring the foreigners who buy them.

Govt reacts

In what appears as a denial of the allegation, the state government came out with a statement to denounce such move saying the new administration would rather pursue constitutional means of addressing issues rather than using third parties from behind the scene.

The state commissioner for agriculture and food security, Timothy Ojomah, assured farmers that the grading cost would remain stable even as he dismissed the rumored increase as unfounded.

He stated that the state government would take action against anyone found extorting marketers. To that extent, he advised foreigners to avoid direct interactions with farmers, assuring them that grading costs will not change.

… Farmers too

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend in Kogi state, a farmer, Mr. Samson Achema, who owns large plot of cashew plantation in Ofu local government area of the state, said excitement is in the air because it seems the fruit would produce this year unlike last year.

“For two years running now, it was disappointment as cashew fruits failed to produce, but all the signs of a bountiful harvest are visible this year. You can see the flowering and budding fruits on some trees. We never saw this last year.

“Our only concern right now is fear that the state government may now decide to fix the prices as against allowing market forces to determine it.

“Two years ago, that was what Bello did and many farmers lost so much money. He directed that the buyers of cashew nuts who are mostly foreigners should pay a certain amount of price for a bag and buckets of the nuts only at designated selling points.

“So farmers were forced to sell below the market selling prices. The government was not fair on the farmers at all. Now that it seems there would be a good yield this year, soon their agents would be mounting road blocks on strategic market routes to check any vehicle that carries cashew nuts. This is the major problem we are having with the sale of this crop here,” he said.

Towing the same part, another farmer, Chief Aaron Akogu, appealed to the federal government to help cashew farmers by bridging the barriers put on their way to the market.

“I don’t know why the local and state government would always focus their attention on cashew nuts and not allow farmers to enjoy their labour.

“As from November every year, we buy costly chemicals to apply on the crops, ensure that all the grasses around the plantations are cleared to avoid fire incident, but after someone passes through all these ordeals, some persons would mount road blocks restricting us from taking the crops to the market insisting on designated points. I have never seen such inhumanity before.

“Please help us to inform the president that in Kogi state, efforts of the farmers towards boosting food production are being frustrated by faceless agents masquerading as tax officials despite government’s stand against multiple taxations.”