3 September 2014

Tanzania: Women Set to Revive Cashew Nut Production

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Cashew Nut plantation.

ALL over Africa, millions of women have taken up traditionally male dominated jobs ; in some cases excelling even better than their male counterparts. Along the coastline, especially, women's role were, since time immemorial, cooking and taking care of their husbands and children.

The menfolk were to provide for the entire household, sweating out, confirming the ancient curse unleashed to mankind that men would have to go through thick and thin for livelihood.

But as years turned to decades, and decades formed centuries in a matter of time, the womenfolk, globally are now taking both roles - those of child -bearing and fending for families.

In the agricultural sector, for example, women in millions, are engaging themselves in serious farming. Take a look at sisal, tobacco, cotton, tea, sugar, rice and cashew nut farming.

One of such features is evident in Mkinga District, Tanga Region, where women small scale farmers have taken advantage of vast land, tipped as the leading administrative area in terms of soil fertility, to plant new cashew trees.

Under an agreement signed between the Commission of Science and Technology (COSTECH), a government owned institution, and Mkinga District Council, the former is carrying out an ambitious project to revive cashew nut production.

In the arrangement, small scale farmers are provided with technology on cashew farming under the guidance of trained extension officers who are already experts in cashew growing.

All experts disseminating the new technology to farmers in selected four villages - including Mkinga Leo, Mwanyumba, Horohoro Kijijini and Kwangoma operate under the project.

The farmers have undergone several seminars to attain knowledge on cashew growing and management. They were taught on preparations of nursery, grafting of young plants after which they are distributed free to farmers. Grafting is a process, whereby improved variety is tied to a tender plant and allowed to grow.

It is primarily aimed at improving productivity. Pruning is another essential package. Its aim is to allow air to pass across tree branches to avoid darkness, which is a preferred hideout for insect diseases.

In several cashew growing areas visited by a team of a half dozen or so cashew growing experts last week, led by Dr. Louis Kasuga from Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (NARI),in Mtwara, farmers were allowed to freely practice their knowledge on their new farming plots.

"When you find that two branches part ways from the main stem simultaneously, do not allow both of them to continue growing. Cut off one of them so that the branches alternate," lectured Dr Kasuga at a Horohoro village farm.

Dr Kasuga believes that allowing branches to sprout out sideways uncontrollably, creates strain on the plant - causing the branches to lean towards the ground surface.

"Take the sukerture (a cashew pruning component) and cut off the undesired tree branches," the researcher and agronomist would order one of the farmers - often allowing groups to learn by doing, in almost every farming plot.

At Mkinga Leo, Dr Kasuga asked to be told why it was unwise to allow certain varieties to flower when they had hardly attained the length of one metre.

When everybody had failed to give satisfactory reply, he said: "It is necessary to discourage early flowering to inhibit the plant from early maturing.

The process of cutting of the flowering portion is to encourage further growth upwards - towards the atmosphere". At a Horohoro Kijijini farm, planted with 90 grafted young trees, the researcher cum lecturer described the plot as the best. "This plot has impressed me because it has almost all the qualities of a good farm.

First, it is well kept, second, the plants are grown alongside legumes." In a message, Dr Kasuga gave to farmers, wherever the team visited, the researcher insisted on intercropping "Intercropping is a necessary component in cashew growing because it necessitates the farmer to keep the farm clean, in the process of weeding other plants in the same plot."

Cashew plant grown under modern technology begins production at the age of as low as one and a half years - if well taken care of, according to Nzaro Kijo, Mkinga District Cashew Coordinator.

"Ideally, when the plant is 5 years, production is at its peak, standing at between 25 kgs. to 50 kgs.," says Kijo, adding that the better the plot management, the higher the yields. In some plots visited, some very old traditional varieties were doing well. "Why was this so?", this writer demanded to know.

"It is true that certain varieties may look or seem to be doing well, but the type is prone to various diseases. Today, you see it is producing good yields, but tomorrow when you come here, you may find the entire tree completely devastated", stressed the coordinator.

"Old trees need occasional spraying to ensure that whatever tree diseases - and they are many - do not devour tree parts, particularly the deadly powdery mildew".

Powdery mildew, says Kijo, is the most serious tree disease, adding that it manifests itself in colouration on the leaves, rendering the leaves to appear in very tiny grey spots which hinder photosynthesis - the making of plant food. At Horohoro Kijijini, the Ward's Extension Officer, Esther Mashishanga showed the team over 2,500 grafted seedlings awaiting collection by farmers.

"All the young plants you see here, are grafted. We keep them ready so farmers can easily collect whatever amount they wish," said the young agriculturalist.

Mwanaidi Omari, one of the farmers at Mahandakini, an area once used as a refuge by German soldiers during the 2nd World War, told the team that so far she had planted 78 trees.

"Our problem here, is invasion of our plots by pastoralists who allow their cattle roam about freely," she told the 'Daily News.' "Look here, this defenceless young tree is almost dying because when the animals come here, they scratch their backs against the trees," said Mwanaidi who was accompanied by a dozen or so other women farmers, each owning a few hectares of the crop.

Next to the farm, exists a school demonstration plot where 25 plants have been grown in an area of about 2 hectares. Another successful farmer, Agnes Wilson says she planted 143 traditional varieties in 2009/10.

Agnes, declared best farmer in a regional contest last year, says she has so far done top working - the process of chopping off old and unproductive old trees - two metres from ground level to 182 trees.

In the modern technology, aimed at higher production, a new variety is planted beside a tree stem and technically tied by use of a plastic band to allow fresh stems to sprout out sideways but upwards to the atmosphere.

The seriously committed farmer, says she started cashew growing with the little income she earned from petty businesses. Certainly, Agnes' story removes the traditional myth that coastal women's place is the kitchen.

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