EXCEPT for people living in the southern and coastal regions of Tanzania, cashew is not a known crop upcountry, especially the northern circuit.
The crop, a cash earner, is grown in the coastal regions - precisely Mtwara, Lindi, Coast and Tanga. However, of late, Singida, Dodoma and Morogoro have shown interest of joining the traditional growers.
Available statistics show that the crop is planted in a large chunk of land - estimated at 400,000 - in Mtwara and Lindi - the equivalence of three quarters of the total area under cashew nut farming.
Like sisal, the crop was in its peak in the 60's and early 70's. For example, in the 1973/74, cashew production had reached 145,000 tonnes. But mid -70's saw a sharp decline in production for a steady decade or so, when production plummeted to 15,000 and 25,000 tonnes. Several reasons were attributed to the shortfall.
Some of them being of political nature - whereby farmers were separated from their cashew farms during villagization programme. Others were delayed payment to farmers and disease and insect pest incidences - factors which severely led to reduced cashew yields.
Notwithstanding the decline in cashew production in the past two decades, the crop stood in third position in crop export ladder, next to coffee and cotton.
It contributed between 10 and 14 per cent of the country's foreign exchange. It is for this reason that the Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (ARINaliendele) came up with an idea of introducing transfer of cashew knowledge and technology to farmers through Integrated Cash Management (ICM) approach in August, 2013.
Cashew management experts had noticed that linkage between research and extension was very low, becoming a major constraint to development of the crop. They believed, and rightly so, that significant increase in cashew production can be made with transfer of knowledge direct to the farmers - a shift from working with individual farmers to working with groups.
Initially, the project involved cashew growing villages in Southern Tanzania in 1994 after the approach was formed by researchers, extension officers, farmer groups and other stakeholders working in cashew industry.
The project, operating under the Commission for Science and Technology - (COSTECH) is now being implemented in Mkinga district, Tanga region where the same ICM approach is in use. "The objective of the project is to improve productivity of cashew by building capacity of key cashew stakeholders in Mkinga district", says Dr Louis Kasuga, Project Investigator.
He says: "The idea is to impart knowledge on improved methods and technology of cashew production to farmers". The ultimate aim, says Dr Kasuga, is to reduce income poverty and enhance household food security and nutritional status among smallholder cashew growers in the district.
Dr Kasuga told the 'Daily News' during a three-day seminar attended by over 60 cashew farmers at Maramba location in the district at the weekend that participants would acquire knowledge and practical skills on general cashew husbandry and farm management.
Other expected benefits, are timely interventions on insect pests and diseases control in cashew, appropriate and proper use of pesticides and increased employment opportunities as well as transfer of cashew technology within and across villages.
Under the arrangement, farmers will work in groups formed by themselves with a common goal; district, ward and village extension officers being involved fully in the entire process of forming the system.
"Selection of villages to take part in the ICM is done in collaboration with District Agricultural Livestock Development Officer through village extension officers, villages growing cashew trees or those with potential for cashew growing.
"Basically, ICM approach shifts from traditional working with individual farmers to working with village based group farmers," says Nzaro Simeon Kijo, Mkinga District Cashew Coordinator.
"Undeniably, extension officers in the country lack specialized knowledge on cashew technology at all levels - from certificate to degree - hence the need for their involvement in attainment of such valuable "asset", he explained during the opening of the seminar whose chief guest was Ms Mboni Mgaza, Mkinga District Commissioner.
Extension officers under the project, are trained by NARI, then the experts disseminate technology to farmers, says Kijo. Under the arrangement, a core group of 50 farmers are selected for training - then sub-groups of five to ten are formed. The farmers learn improved seed planting, grafting and pruning. Others are disease and insect pest identification and fungicides spraying.
According to a Memorandum of Understanding signed between Mkinga District Council and NARI, the COSTECH project is a three year stint - beginning last year. It comprises four leading cashew growing villages; namely, Kwangema, Mwanyumba, Horohoro and Mkinga Leo.
In the success story with regard to cashew growing in the districts, Mkinga became second overall winners in cashew growing countrywide - planting 20,185 during 2013 after receiving a large consignment of seedlings through the financing of COSTECH and NARI.
Under the project, the district has trained all the district's extension officers - 64 of them, as well as 250 farmers on cashew modern farming.
Ms Mgaza was however, dismayed by the illicit trade of cashew nuts across the border to |Kenya and told seminar participants that the government was all out to look for financiers for building a cashew processing factory at Mkinga to deter farmers from selling their crop at throw away prices.
"What is happening is that when you sell the crop to Kenya, you earn very little because the buyers exploit you", Ms Mgaza told the seminar participants. "I urge all cashew farmers in the district to reserve their harvests while awaiting cashew auction where you will sell your crop at formal market", she counseled.