WESTERN Province is poised to become the hub of cashew nut production in the next few years.
Government has already given the Cashew nut Growers Association a grant of K100 million for the importation of 30,000 cashew nut seedlings from Mozambique.
Cashew nut growing in Western Province dates as far back as 1985, during the time of first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda's government, who initiated this project as an out-grower scheme..
Moses Shimbilimbili who is coordinator for the Cashew nut Development Project in Mongu, said over ten thousand farmers were recruited by the then Kenneth Kaunda government.
The exercise saw over 1.7 million trees planted and the cashew nut industry boomed, however, the cashew nut factories were privatised in 1997.
The worst hit were the cashew nut farmers whose main market had been the State, they were abandoned for over twenty years.
In 2007, farmers came together, mobilised themselves to revitalise the cashew nut industry.
The industry needs about KR12 Million in order for this to happen viably.
However, the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) has injected KR550, 000 in the project for the purchase of equipment and cashew nuts from farmers.
CEEC has helped to develop an out grower scheme by providing KR 1.7 million to rejuvenate the trees and to secure planting materials.
Some of the money was used for research by sending Government officials to Mozambique.
Mozambique is one of Africa's top producers of cashew nuts and it is only befitting that Zambia learns from them.
After realising the economic prospects of cashew nuts, the Government showed its support and added to the funds from CEEC.
The industry received a KR9,000 from Ministry of Agriculture and KR5,000 from Ministry of Finance and National Planning.
The cooperative had some problems in paying back the funds it borrowed owing to a variety of reasons.
Mr Shimbilimbili said one of the main reasons owing to this was the wrong assumption by the farmers regarding the economic viability of the trees.
The trees do not grow as many nuts as they used to but this has not deterred the farmers from pursuing their dream.
Their determination is such that they have been to China to also borrow some money for the project.
Mr Shimbilimbili said without the loan from CEEC, they would still have been at zero level in terms of progress.
The CEEC gave them a loan when their dream was still merely words on paper.
CEEC communications and public relations manager Glenda Masebe after touring the factory and nursery said it was clear that the farmers were making progress.
Ms Masebe said it was encouraging to see people using the funds from CEEC for the purpose they were intended for.
She said the money was meant to be a revolving fund thus it was good to encourage people to make progress so they could pay back the money in order for others to benefit.
Ms Masebe encouraged the farmers to write a report of whatever challenges they were facing in terms of repayment because she said it was clear they were working hard.
The group of farmers have bought new equipment to process the nut, the equipment accrues zero per cent loss compared to the old one they were using which took seven days for the nuts to be ready and accrued 97 per cent losses.
Walusungu Banda, who is Provincial Empowerment Coordinator for the CEEC said that when the industry is fully functional 30,000 jobs would be created.
This is a much needed development obviously and it goes with the CEECs fundamental plan, which Ms Masebe says is the creation of entrepreneurs who will in turn provide employment to others.
The project has so far recruited 10,000 farmers and it is targeting 15,000 farmers in order to fulfil the dream of planting 200,000 trees every year.
This will be realised through each farmer planting 20 trees each year which become productive after 24 months.
The profit, however, will only be realised after four years.
The cashew nut trees are drought resistant, a bonus especially in this era of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns.
Mr Shimbilimbili said the farmers are only supplying 5 per cent of the national market as demand is higher than supply.
The future of course lies in exporting the nuts to other countries, a trend which has been rising in nations such as Nigeria, Brazil and Mozambique.
When exporting any products abroad, it is not a supplier that people buy from, it is a nation thus all produce has to adhere to Zambia Development Agency Regulations.
According to Commodity Online an online Global prices publication; major importers of cashew nut are US, European Union, China, and countries in West Asia.
Global prices of cashew kernels are shaped by prices of competing tree nuts such as almonds, walnut, pistachio etc.
World cashew trade picked up in pace only from mid-20th century, and it has gone through various changes in the subsequent years of its development.
Jamil Patel a shop owner in Lusaka says cashew nuts are a widely sought after food with people from all walks of life trooping in to his shop to buy them.
Mr Patel says that the cashews can be a meal on their own adding that for women on slimming diets they can act as a food supplement.
"You know these days women are going on slimming diets, they can use cashew as it has filling properties. And it has no harmful fats."
According to the encyclopedia of food sciences and nutrition; "cashews, as with other tree nuts, are a good source of antioxidants.
Alkyl phenols, in particular, are abundant in cashews. Cashews are also a good source of dietary trace minerals copper, iron and zinc."
The 1985 trees' properties were not known by the farmers thus they have been buying scions (cuttings from the branches) to bond to the new trees before growing them here.
"The trees from Mozambique have well known qualities we know whether they are sweet, bitter and so on. That's why we are grafting from there, besides Mozambique has taught us a lot in terms of cashew nut farming." Mr Shimbilimbili says.
CEEC took a leap of faith by helping the farmers and this fact is acknowledged, Pius Mishengo who is the former acting Deputy Permanent Secretary of Western Province said.
"Once the cashew nut industry is up and running, it will turn around the economy of Western Province." He said adding that a tonne of cashew nuts is practically equivalent to a tonne of copper.
He also urged people who owed CEEC to pay back the money they owe as it was meant to be a revolving fund.
"We are aware of success stories in the province, some people have utilised the funds but we are tired of singing the poverty song.
Loan recovery is a critical part of loan repayments, it is vital that everyone benefits from the fund and this can only be done if debtors pay back," Mr Mishengo said.
Ms Masebe says CEEC has given loans to people in various areas, we encourage people to invest in different areas.
Economic diversity is vital for a developing nation and that is why the growth of the cashew nut Industry should be supported.