A young bricklayer in Kwara State, simply identified as Alaba, was getting frustrated in 2015 because his craft was not fetching him enough money to take proper care of himself and his family. He was contemplating on what to do when an idea struck him. It was in March 2015, and the idea was planting cashew trees. It flashed as he saw some cashew plantation owners smiling to the bank. Olam Edible Nuts, a cashew processing company located at Ogbondoroko, a suburb of Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, off Afon road, through its various aggregators, was buying a kilogramme at the rate of N600.
Alaba then made a decision to start cashew cultivation, left his wife and kids in the suburb and moved to his home town, a border village between Kwara and Kogi states, where the community land is available for members of the village to farm.His cashew trees, on three acres of land, are now fruiting. He said he was fascinated into this partly because the plantation maintenance is much more cost-effective than a cocoa plantation, and could allow him to intercrop with food crops to support his family.
Dr Akin Olonihuwa, a former provost of Kabba College of Agriculture, Kogi State, while stating the requirements for and techniques of modern cashew cultivation, said the basic requirements include well drained land; high quality seeds or seedlings; committed and experienced workers; equipment tractors, trucks or trailers. Good security, he added, is also essential to prevent stealing, especially at the harvest periods.
Improved varieties of cashew take 24 months to fruit, and these are Brazilian Jumbo and Indian Dwarf, he told The Guardian.“The Indian dwarf variety will give you 1.5 tonnes per hectare, while Brazilian Jumbo will yield one tonne per hectare. The only difference is that the nut count for Brazilian Jumbo is more attractive than Indian Dwarf variety,” he said.
Like cocoa, cashew yield would increase as they age, especially after six years. The two varieties are available in Nigeria Cashew Desk in Federal Ministry of Agriculture links people to sources of good seedlings, Olonihuwa explained to The Guardian.
Population per hectare
The conventional spacing of cashew trees is 10 X 10 meters apart, which would approximately give 100 trees per hectare of land. In modern techniques, with good consultation, 7 X 7 metres spacing could be used. That will result in 177 plants per hectare, according to Olonihuwa. However, the Regional Research Station of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, India, says conventional spacing method using 7x7m would give a plant population of about 200 per hectare; high density planting using 5x4m would give about 500 per hectare while the ultra high density planting spacing of 4x2m would give about 1,000 trees per hectare.The research station says technologies employed in ultra density cashew plantations include drip irrigation, fertigation, pruning, foliar application and pest/disease management.
The Indian institute says pruning (trimming of stems and branches) includes removal of terminal buds at 60-70m height to induce lateral branching, trimming of the first, the second and the third tier branches. Drip irrigation is used in the dry season to keep the plants hydrated. This requires a deep well or a borehole facility, overhead tank and irrigation pipes laid across the plantation.
Drip irrigation and fertigation
“Drip irrigation saves water, helps in weed control and enhances 50% higher yield,” Regional Research Station says. Fertigation, meaning the use of soluble fertilizer through the drip irrigation, also boosts the economics of cashew production in the ultra high density system. Adequate micronutrients are supplied regularly to the plants via water.
Foliar applications of pesticides
The research station also recommends “foliar application of 1.0% mono ammonium phosphate and 0.1% borer micronutrient mixture during flowering seasons, and during fruit set, foliar application of 3.0% Panchakavya.” Foliar applications of pest-control chemicals are also done to at certain times to controls diseases and pests.To protect cashew against tea mosquito bug, the research centre recommends to “First spray (December – January) Profenophos 50 Ec – 1ml/lit; second spray (January – February) – Chlorpyriphos 20 EC – 2.5 ml/lit and third spray (February – March) – Carbaryl 50 % – 2 gm/lit.”
To combat stem and root borer, which eat up roots and stem of cashew trees, the Indian cashew research station says, “Swab the tree trunk with 3.0% neem oil during June – July and December – January. Remove the grubs from infested trees and drench the damaged portion with 20 EC Chlorpyriphos@ 0.15%.” These technologies, it adds, increase yield per hectare by 42 per cent, in addition to the yield benefits of optimum plant population per hectare.
Encouraging more farmers in cashew
Olonihuwa encouraged farmers to take up cashew production, saying, “We are promoting it. The only problem is that in some areas, land tenure will not allow farmers to plant trees. But where farmers have access to land, they do it. In my area here (Kogi State), what they do is that if they grow their yam, cassava or maize they will intercrop them with cashew so that when they harvest crops, the cashew remains. That method is cheaper for them”
Economics of cashew in ultra high density plant population
Another specialist on cashew plantation and economics at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Dr Olufemi Ibiremo, disclosed that “cashew is a commodity crop of international recognition and it is important in foreign exchange earnings and afforestation programmes…. Nigeria is the third largest producer of cashew nuts after Cote d’ivoire and Tanzania.”
Ibiremo said Nigeria produces 960,000 metric tonnes yearly, and the average yield per hectare is 450-500kg raw cashew nuts.Cashew is cultivated in more than 27 states in Nigeria and has high potential to increase production beyond any of the competitors like cocoa and palm. Cashew has ability to adapt to varying climatic conditions that are marginal to many other tree crops.
Ibiremo added that the low yield of cashew trees is caused by a number of factors, namely farmers’ plant seeds of open pollinated nuts with poor genetic make-up, low use of clones as planting materials, high cashew population density, poor pest and disease management and less attention to soil management issues. Olonihuwa, on the other hand, said farmers could increase average yield to 1.5 tonnes by a marginal increase in the number of trees planted.
Contrary to the average yield in the country, as explained by Nigerian specialists, the Regional Research Station of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore said with ultra high density plant spacing, plant population and yield could be multiplied with good management. This implies, as indicated in the table, that harvesting three tonnes of cashew nuts per hectare is realizable with good practices and adequate inputs. With pruning, arable crops, such as groundnuts and cowpeas, could be intercropped with cashew yearly. These generate additional income for the farmers.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Exports Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr Segun Awolowo, disclosed recently in Lagos that the international price of cashew per tonne was about $1,800. Awolowo indicated that Nigeria could thousands of jobs from cultivation, value addition and marketing, apart from profit margins for farmers and entrepreneurs.Cashew production cost of production is lower than cocoa. Limited number of insecticides is required in cashew, unlike in cocoa. Cost of harvest and elementary processing (drying) of nuts is lower than the cost of cocoa production.
About 14 states produce cocoa in Nigeria, because it is a water-loving crops, with special land requirement, but cashew grows well in about 27 states of the federation, accounting for the almost 1 million tonne Nigeria produces per anum, compared to about 350,000 metric tonnes of cocoa.Therefore, experts such as Olonihuwa and Ibiremo expressed the optimism that cashew has what it takes to help in the diversification, industrialisation and economic recovery efforts of the country if land barrier is removed, mobilisation of the youth is done and good agronomical practices are embraced by farmers.
Attracting premium price
Dr Ibiremo of CRIN said to achieve premium price, two levels of quality assurance are critical. The first is at the farm gate. Elements at this level include increasing yield/tree/hectare; reducing crop gestation period, farming cost; improving kernel/yield ratio; improving processing efficiency, proper storage, packaging and farm sanitation. The second level of quality assurance, he added, is the pre-sale specification for cashew nuts, which must be met and adhered to. Nuts for export must be well dried and clean.
Good agricultural practices (GAP) that involves the choice of good planting materials with appropriate production techniques and suitable post-harvest handling will lead to high grade exportable cashew nuts, Ibiremo advised.