Cashew nut growers at the coast have proposed changes that they say will help revive the cashew nut sector.
The growers who gathered on Saturday in Mombasa to deliberate on the future of the sector, urged for contributions from both the National Government and county governments in the revival plan.
Among the challenges that the growers pointed at were low-yielding varieties of cashew nut trees that they said should be replaced and new fungal diseases that should be combated.
Speaking on Saturday, Frank Omondi, the Managing Director of Ten Senses Africa, said State intervention in the sector is imperative.
Ten Senses Africa is a think tank that connects cashew nut farmers at the Coast with experts to advise them on good farming techniques.
“Political goodwill is crucial for the revival effort,” said Mr Omondi.
During this year's Mombasa International Agricultural Show, President Uhuru Kenyatta said his administration will aid the ailing sector by providing cashew nut farmers with new, fast-maturing tree varieties and rehabilitate aging orchards.
The president said the sector collapsed in the 1990s and it time it was revived.
On Saturday, the growers however said there was need to have a broader-based approach that brings on board all players in the sector in revival plans.
Omondi averred that it was important to create clear market structures to guarantee farmers better prices.
He opined that the collapse of Kenya Cashew nuts factory left farmers at the mercy of brokers.
“The crop has a low margin. After the mismanagement at the factory and corruption, there has never been a strategic plan that followed to renew it,” Omondi said.
He noted that the factory brought market stability and predictable prices leading to an increase in production.
According to data from Ten Senses Africa, production grew from about 7,000 metric tonnes in the 1960’s to over 36,000 metric tons by early 1980’s.
Kwale County Government Crop Officer Safari Ziro said the huge size of old trees has made it difficult to employ proper crop husbandry. Spraying, specifically, has become a difficult task.
“New fungal diseases and pests have emerged creating a needless challenge,” Mr Ziro said.
He added that farmers have now lost lost interest in cashew nut farming and are cutting down the few remaining trees for timber.
David Njuguna, the chairman of the Lake Kenyatta Cooperative Society in Lamu attributed the problems in the sector to lack of a sound policy.
“In the 1980’s our cooperative society bought over 9,000 metric tonnes from farmers every year. This went down to 6,000 tonnes between 1997 and 2005 reaching. Last year it was only 850 tonnes,” Mr Njuguna said.
The crop, a once vibrant investment at that Coast has in recent years almost fully collapsed.
Figures from the Nuts and Crops Directorate shows that the sector recorded a decline from a production of 18,907 metric tonnes in 2015 to 11,404 metric tonnes in 2016, a 40 per cent drop.
The data also reveals that the acreage under cultivation went down from 28,758 to 21,284 hectares in the same period.
According to the Kenya Cashew Nuts Processors and Exporters Association chairman Samuel Varghese the state’s ban of the export of raw nuts accelerated the collapse of the sector.
The Cashew Nut Revival Task Force 2009, recommended that the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) should be the one to buy nuts from farmers.
NCPB failed to buy the nuts. “This was very crucial for the revival effort since the private sector alone has not demonstrated a serious commitment to rescue nut growers,” said Omondi.
“The sector needs a clear value chain development plan that brings all stakeholders on board. The Government should lead the efforts by providing resources."