A strong rationale for reviving the cashew nut industry at the Kenyan Coast

Cashew nut production has traditionally been one of the main sources of livelihoods at the coast.

Although the production of the nuts is growing in the country and currently stands at around 25,000 tonnes, it is still well below the 1978 peak production of 38,000 tonnes and represents a meagre 0.6 per cent of world production.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change, which spare no country or region, and which affect food production and efforts to eradicate poverty, have deservedly been gaining global attention.

Responding to these multiple challenges, the European Union and its member states have been seeking to support livelihoods in Kenya in the context of climate change and the need for sustainable development.

Prime example

One prime example of EU action in this area is the revival of the cashew industry at the Kenyan coast, which employs about 68,950 farmers.

In Kenya, yields and nut quality are diminishing due to ageing trees and poor agronomic practices (5kg/tree against a potential 30kg/tree).

Low prices, exploitative conditions imposed by intermediaries and the export ban on raw cashews imposed in 2009 demotivate farmers from investing in new and higher-yielding trees.

Kenya has about 2.4 million old cashew nut trees, of which 20 per cent are no longer productive.

Yet, world market demand is steadily increasing due to rising awareness of the importance of nuts in a healthy lifestyle.

The EU alone imported cashew nuts worth €1.6 billion in 2017 and global demand has increased by 53 per cent since 2010.

The cashew nut tree is a drought-resistant crop that has several benefits: Mitigating climate change, ensuring excellent nutritional value, providing a steady source of revenue and jobs, and a worthy investment for the future of Kenyan households.

However, the success of this crop depends on its potential to compete with other world producers.

This is a good reason to revive the cashew nut industry, particularly at the Kenyan coast where agro-ecological conditions are optimal and where cashew nuts have always represented an important source of income.

Lead player

To make Kenya a lead player in the world cashew nut market, all the major stakeholders must act together: The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, the concerned county governments, research institutions (particularly Kalro), development partners, processors, and farmers.

In particular, farmers must replace their ageing trees with new, higher-yielding varieties and invest in services such as pruning, disease control and proper post-harvest management. This is possible only if farmers can access quality seedlings and services and know that they will get a worthwhile reward for their efforts.

The Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, has subsidised the distribution of over 350,000 seedlings to various counties at the Coast in order to boost the supply of improved, grafted cashew nut seedlings. A lot still needs to be done.

Through a joint partnership with Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary (members of the Visegrad4-V4 group), the EU is currently funding a project to enhance livelihoods in the Kenyan coastal region by supporting organic and fair trade certification of smallholders.

This action is funded under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and is implemented by the Slovak Agency for International Development Co-operation along with V4 partner organisations which are actively engaged in training farmers - 45 per cent of them women - and promoting their products abroad.

They also apply valuable expertise in these fields.

Two partner organisations (Ten Senses Africa and Farm Africa) are assisting in establishing three cashew seedling nurseries, training farmers' on fair trade and organic certification and in providing incentives to youth and women to supply services to the value chain in a sustainable way.

The project, which is fully in line with the Big Four agenda, aims to plant and distribute a million cashew seedlings and support the organic and fair trade certification of 15,000 farmers.

It will also increase the production and fair trade market access of organic cashew nut and sesame seeds which will fetch a premium price, thus boosting household incomes for smallholder farmers and creating a positive environmental impact through tree planting in semi-arid areas.  

New plant

Furthermore, Ten Senses Africa will establish a new processing plant in Kilifi County, opening up an attractive market for farmers.

Launched in June 2018, the project has made remarkable progress, having distributed 450,000 high-yielding seedlings to farmers in Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu counties and obtained the fair trade certification of 15,000 smallholder farmers to enable them access high-value markets.

Simon Mordue is Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Kenya, Frantisek Dlhopolcek is the Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Kenya, Martin Klepetko is the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Kenya, László Máthé is the Ambassador of Hungary to Kenya, Jacek Bazanski is the Ambassador of Poland to Kenya