23 February 2013

Zambia: Cashew Nut Industry Needs Revival

IN 2011, the portfolio coordinator for SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, received an invitation letter to participate in a discussion on the cashew industry in Mongu.

The meeting was held at the Ministry of Agriculture conference hall and was well represented.

Being the advisor in private sector development with an agriculture background, I was asked to attend the meeting.

By then I was working as a private sector development advisor responsible for rice and jatropha value chains in Western Province. I was pleased to attend that meeting because from the time I had relocated to the province a year earlier from Mansa, I had never heard of any activity around the cashew nut value chain.

Mongu is very popular with cashew nuts just like Chipata is popular with bicycles, so is Mwinilunga with pineapples and Kitwe with Jerabos.

I liked the meeting because a lot of pertinent issues in the sector were discussed.

Apparently, there are two main companies involved in cashew nut in the province and one of them had just received some funding from Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) to recapitalise the operations of the industry.

Literally, every thirty metre distance you cover in Mongu is planted with a cashew nut tree.

We had four big trees in the premises of our offices and they used to provide a nice shade especially in summer when temperatures in that part of the country can soar to as high as 460C.

There is a very big plantation just a few metres drive from Mongu to Limulunga and a hedge of trees on the Senanga Road.

I used to wonder why the companies were not harnessing those plantations.

This meeting opened my eyes in that I learnt that a cashew nut plantation needs to be replanted every twenty year period, and those plantations had over lived their usefulness.

The manager for the firm that hosted the meeting was talking of importing a nursery from Mozambique and from my understanding; the phyto-sanitary department was a hindrance then.

I was happy to learn a few days ago that, finally the company had imported the nursery and soon it would be planting them or if not already planted.

The gist of the story was that I want to recommend the Government through CEEC for having come to the aid of this industry.

I have always written in this column that first president of the Republic of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda and his men he worked with, though humbly educated were visionary and understood so well the comparative advantage of each region.

Look at Western Province, apart from the fish industry (natural, capture fishery), timber industry which is being exploited unsustainably, cattle industry (though the quality of management and the breed is questionable) and the rice farming; the province would be dead and buried.

I wouldn't be wrong to guess that the biggest employer in the province is the cattle, fish, and rice and timber sectors besides public government workers.

To have an industry like the cashew nut which had potential to do well and employ not less than five thousand when at full operation being ignored is insane to say the least.

This industry in other countries like Mozambique is as big as our mining industry in Mufulira.

It employs several thousands of people directly and hundreds indirectly.

Iam yet to google the nutritional quality of the cashew nuts but compared to our groundnuts, they taste nicer than the later.

I have bought these kernels several times when I go shopping in Shoprite Checkers although they are all imported.

Iam very happy with the bold decision the Government had taken through CEEC to revive this industry.

I know the past government did a lot of things wrongly, but on this one, they did well first by creating the CEEC and for trying to revamp the cashew nut industry in Mongu.

I hope and pray that the company through its managing director a Mr Shimbilimbili will run it as a going concern.

Let them not only rely on the 30,000 seedlings that they have imported, but they should engage the research department of our Agriculture ministry to be breeding more quality seedlings so that they could roll out the out-grower scheme to nearby towns such as Lukulu, Kaoma and Senanga, not to forget the new Luampa District.

There are very few crops that can grow in the sandy and dry conditions that prevail in most parts of Western Province and this crop had proved that it could do well.

Therefore, I sometimes hit my head several times to see the Government waste millions of rebased kwacha to distribute maize seeds and fertiliser to some areas of the province where even under the Mpongwe level of management, you will barely get 0.5Mt of a yield for a crop with a potential of 10Mt/ha.

Meanwhile, the rice farmers that are getting relatively good yields with recycled rice seed don't have hybrid seed for supa rice which is the mostly favoured in the province.

With these few words, let me welcome Robert Sichinga to the Ministry of Agriculture and congratulate Emmanuel Chenda for having tried though I have not been impressed especially with Farmer Input Support Programme (ISP).

I hope that the cashew nut industry is just one of them, let us create those cottage industries Mr Sichinga you used to sing about at Commerce into Agriculture Ministries.

To remind you, we have bananas in Luapula, pineapples in Mwinilunga, mangoes and groundnuts in Eastern Province, tomatoes in Lusaka and Central provinces, rice in Western, cattle in Southern, sweet potatoes on the Copperbelt, fish in Luapula and ifinkubala and cassava in Northern and Mchinga provinces.

Till then, my eyes are focused to see what infrastructure development will be next to be worked on after the link Zambia eight thousand.

I love you Zambians but let's change our mindset.

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