In a season, a farmer earns about sh300,000 from one tree
CASHEW NUT, as its name suggests, is a cash minting nut, Joseph Okilan can testify. Okilan is one of the leading cashew nut farmers in Teso region and member of Teso Cashewnut Growers Association in Ngora district.
During a recent interview with Harvest Money, Okilan recalled the day he discovered the amazing cashew nut. His involvement with the high value crop goes way back to 1977, when he was recruited as a cashew nut field assistant by the agriculture ministry.
â€œI was given the job because my father, a former chief of Mukura sub-county, was growing cashewnut in his retirement,â€ Okilan explains.
Father and son later established a cashew nut nursery at their home to supply seedlings to farmers. There were also plans by the Government to install a nut processing machine in Soroti district.
However, all that came to naught following the 1979 liberation war and the subsequent change in government. The cashew nut project was abandoned. With his job at the agriculture ministry gone, Okilan joined the Ministry of Commerce until 1992 when he retired.
Like his father, Okilan took up cashew nut growing as his retirement project. However, he had to start from scratch.
Turning point (2005)
In 2005, the Common Fund for Commodities launched the Regional Cashew Improvement Network for Eastern and Southern Africa.
The organisation operates in seven African countries, namely Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar and Ethiopia. The fund provides financial assistance to developing countries for fighting poverty through commodity-focused developments.
In 2005, Okilan planted 100 cashew nut seedlings of an improved variety. There are five improved cashew nut varieties. Improved varieties begin bearing fruit at 18 months unlike the traditional varieties that take about three years.
The improved varieties have short stems and yield bigger nuts.
What is a cashew nut?
A cashew tree is attractive with large leaves and pink flowers. It is a close relative of the mango tree.
A cashew nut (Anacardium occidentale) is a kidney-shaped seed found at the bottom of the cashew apple, which is an edible false fruit.
The kernel is slightly spongy in texture. The cashew nut was first introduced in India and some African countries by Portuguese explorers from Brazil in South America in the 16th Century. But international trade did not take root until the 1920s.
Today, the leading commercial producers of cashew nuts are India, Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria. Cashewnut trees do well at 1,000 metres above sea level, warm climate, well-drained sandy loam soils and 1,000mm of rainfall. They thrive in the same conditions as mangoes, but do not respond well in swampy areas and high altitudes.
Farmers in mango growing areas, such as Luweero and Nakasongola, can diversify their income by growing cashew nuts. Cashew nuts also tend to thrive in harsh environments where other trees cannot survive, which gives farmers an opportunity to utilise unusable land.
The seeds are first soaked in water for two or three days. Thereafter, they are removed and kept in a damp place where they undergo constant watering.
After three days, the roots will come out. The roots are easy to plant at 3cm long while the shoots take four days to come out.
The seedlings can be put out in the field at two or three months although the ideal would be eight months.
If the farmer intends to use the same field for other crops, spacing should be 12ft by 12ft. But if the field is exclusively for cashew trees, the spacing is 8ft by 8ft that is 75 trees in one acre. Pruning is done in the 5th year after identifying the most viable branches.
Cashew nuts can also be planted directly after making a hole of 2ft by 2ft width filled with manure. Then half a foot of the seed hole is left for the seedling and covered with topsoil. The seed needs to be watered everyday for three weeks.
Controlling pests, diseases
Okilan advises that pesticides should be applied as soon as young fruits begin to appear. 1,00mls of Dimethoate, that cost sh20,000, would be ideal against the coconut bug.
One sachet of Thiovit, costing sh15,000, can be used to spray against powdery mildew at early stages when the tree flowers. Spraying is repeated after a fortnight. Before applying any chemical, the farmer needs to ascertain that the pest attack is over 5%.
The seasonal yield of a mature tree under good management is between 60kg and 80kg of unshelled nuts. The tree bears fruit twice a year and can continue to produce for over 100 years, provided it is protected from wind, diseases and pests.
The first season usually has less fruits, as most of the flowers are destroyed by the heavy rains that characterise the season. Trees that yield big cashew nuts give less fruits. Apart from the shelling process, cashew nut production is not labour intensive, another reason why farmers should take it up.
Enjoying the fruits
The main commercial product of the cashew tree is the kernel, a sought after raw material in the confectionery industry. The cashew nut shell liquid, which is found within a sponge-like interior, contains the thick vesicant oil, an important raw material for resin manufacturing.
The shells can be burned to provide heat for the decorticating operation. In Uganda, the extraction of the kernel from the shell is still a crude manual process, which leaves some of the nuts broken. This tends to lower the nutsâ€™ market value. This crude processing method has made cashew farming seem unprofitable and forced many farmers to abandon the enterprise.
However, simple domestic cashew nut shelling machines are being introduced in the country, to help farmers improve the quality of their yields.
Okilan owns one, while his association owns 20. Each set shells between 50kg and 100kg per day depending on the operatorâ€™s level of skill. After shelling, the nuts are graded into wholes, splits, breakages, spotted, brown and white. They are then roasted or deep fried to achieve the required colour. During the deep frying, salt and other flavours may be added.
Cashew nut a health food
Cashew nuts contain 47% fats, but 82% of this is unsaturated (healthy) fats. Unsaturated fat lowers the cholesterol level in blood.
Kernel comprises a surprising spectrum of vitamins and amino acids in the right proportions. The most prominent vitamins in kernel are vitamin A, D and E. These vitamins help assimilate the fats and boost immunity.
Kernel is a rich source of minerals like calcium, phosphorous and iron. They protect the human nervous system. Cashew is a good appetiser, an excellent nerve tonic, a steady stimulant and body builder.
The kernel has a very low content of carbohydrates, almost 1% of soluble sugar which means that one can enjoy the sweet taste without worrying about excess calories. The cashew tree leaves, bark and the popular cashew apple possess herbal health benefits.
They include killing bacteria and germs, stopping diarrhoea, drying secretions, increasing the libido and reducing fever. Others are reducing blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature.
The sap from the bark can be used to extract tannin, ink and gum. The stem is used to produce varnish, wood, charcoal and is also used to build boats. Juice can be extracted from cashew apple, vitamin C, cassata, alcohol, candie fruit and medicine.
In one season a farmer earns between sh150,000 and sh300,000 from each tree if he sells a kilo of shelled nuts at sh10,000. An acre with 75 trees will yield 4,500kg of unshelled cashew nuts, which will in turn yield 1,125kg of shelled cashew nuts.
From one well managed acre, a farmer can earn between sh8m and sh9m a season. â€œThe farm gate price for unshelled nuts is sh5,000 per kilo. The price would be higher, but often the kernels are of a low grade, as a result of poor management,â€ explains Okilan.
Okilan buys cashew nuts from farmers in Kumi, Soroti, Serere and Kamuda. He sells his roasted nuts in Kampala hotels. One kilogramme of roasted or deep-fried nuts goes at sh20,000 while the imported type goes at between sh22,000 and sh25,000. Okilan emphasises that cashew nut is a high value crop that can boost a farmerâ€™s income, while protecting the environment.
A farmer should plant between 50 and 75 trees on one acre. Using profits from the cashew nut project, Okilan has built a house, bought cattle and paid school fees for his three children. He is also building another house.
However, cashew nut production in Uganda and in East Africa is constrained by low yields, pests, lack of by-product usage, inadequate farmer training and lack of funding. Other obstacles are limited access to credit and marketing constraints.
Most of Africaâ€™s major cashew growing nations lack viable processing industries, meaning that African countries are forgoing tremendous value-added gains.
Tips for aspiring farmers
Plant fresh seeds. They germinate more easily. You can start the seeds in pots or put them straight in the ground. Keep them moist and they should sprout within four or five days.
When planting seedlings, get the improved variety.
Seek guidance from your district forest officer.
Clear the planting area of all vegetation. Plow and level the soil.
Mark out the spots where you want to plant the cashew trees. Trees need about 30 square feet of land to grow.
Choose your nuts from a healthy tree that produces good nuts. Dry the nuts for a few days then soak them for two days to speed up the germination process.
Plant three cashew seeds in a triangle form, one foot apart. They should not be more than four inches deep, with their stalks facing upward at a slight angle.
Wait for a month for the sprouts to germinate and choose the healthiest looking one. Weed out the others.
Keep the cashew plants well-irrigated during the first growing year. Before their root system has developed, the plants will need plenty of water to make it through a drought.
Clear a circle of at least three feet around the base of the plant. This space must be kept free of all types of vegetation. During dry periods, mulch may be used to hold in moisture.
Prune your trees free of dead or diseased branches. Otherwise, cashew trees donâ€™t need much trimming.
Fertilise your trees according to their size. They will mainly need nitrogen and phosphorus, and possibly zinc.
Joseph Okilan can be
contacted on 0771-892479
Cashew nut: The cash minting nut