WHEN addressing the National Assembly, before it was adjourned last weekend, the Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda, said the government would this financial year embark on a revival programme of four cashewnut processing plants in the southern regions.
Plants lined up for rehabilitation, according to Mr Pinda, are Newala-1, Masasi, Lindi and Nachingwea at an estimated cost of sterling pounds 44,185,022. After revival, the plants would be able to process a cumulative total of 29,500 tonnes of cashew.
It should be pointed out that the four plants are among 12 formerly government-owned processing units which were privatised in the mid-1990s when the state embraced a divestiture programme at the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The factories were constructed from 1968 to the late 1970s with an accumulated capacity of over 140,000 tonnes. It is during this time that Tanzania's cashew production peaked at 145,000 tonnes in 1973.
But, for various reasons, production gradually went in decline until it reached its lowest ebb in 1986 when the country produced a mere 16,500 tonnes.
A number of reasons accounted for the decline in production, foremost of which was inefficient marketing of the crop through primary cooperatives and the Cashewnut Authority of Tanzania.
Others were the villagisation programme which was effected shortly after promulgation of the Arusha Declaration; a decline in the quality of the export crop and, of course, the cashew powdery mildew disease.
Decline in cashew production went on unabated until the mid-1980s when the sector almost collapsed. However, economic reforms carried out by the second phase government gradually resuscitated the sector by, among other things, elimination of monopoly of the Cashewnut Marketing Board.
Production has since been gradually picking up, rising to 70,320 tonnes in 1994. Indeed, according to latest figures, Tanzania is on the road to regaining its glory in cashew production as in the financial year 2010/2011 it produced 121,135 tonnes, and exceeded the level in 2011/2012 when it notched 158, 714 tonnes.
Now, as the saying goes, the sky is the limit. However, the reason the government has resolved to revive the four cashew factories is because the majority of the so-called strategic investors of the divested entities have failed to rehabilitate and improve them technologically according to the divestiture agreements.
In fact, some of them are reported to have turned factory buildings into warehouses! This has forced the country to continue exporting cashewnuts in raw form, contrary to the government's aim to add value to them through the divested plants.
Currently, 90 per cent of the cashew produced in the country is exported raw, which, needless to say, gives a raw deal to both the farmer and the government. With the government's Big Results Now initiative, which incorporates agriculture, value-addition is one of its expected outcomes.
Higher cashew prices owing to a ready internal market following the plants' rehabilitation will motivate smallholder farmers to increase acreage.
It should be borne in mind that 85 per cent of the cashew output in the country comes from farms owned by smallholders which explains why the prime minister remarked when addressing the National Assembly last week that the government believes that by reviving the factories, efficiency will increase -- and so will jobs while technology and prices would also be improved.
It is to be hoped that revival of the earmarked factories will chart the way to the rehabilitation of the other stalled cashewnut processing factories.