Dodoma — The growing importance of cashew nuts in Tanzania's economy became evident in Parliament yesterday when legislators dropped all the other issues that were highlighted in the government's Sh32.5 trillion budget proposal for the financial year 2018/19 and shifted all their energies to the crop.
The 'battle' to protect the interests of cashew nut farmers - fronted by MPs from regions that grow the delicately flavoured snacks - was in response to the government's proposal to change the Cashewnut Industry Act (Cap,203) - through the Finance Bill 2018 - with a view to ensuring that export levies are collected in the consolidated fund. This is a shift from the current situation whereby 65 per cent of the crop export levy is remitted to farmers through the Cashew nut Board of Tanzania (CBT) and the government remains with 35 per cent of it.
For almost a decade or so, tobacco used to dominate the value of Tanzania's traditional exports. However, the situation changed last year when cashew nuts overtook tobacco become Tanzania's most sought-after traditional export crop.
Cashew nut exports accounted for $340.9 million (about Sh770 billion at the prevailing exchange rate) during the year ending March 2017, rising from $187 million (about Sh420 billion) during the year ending March 2016, Bank of Tanzania (BoT) figures show.
The BoT stopped publishing trade data in its Monthly Economic Reviews (MERs) in July last year. But going by the April 2017 figures - which covered the year ending March 2017 - the amount earned from cashew nut exports alone was more than combined earnings from coffee, cotton, tea, cloves and sisal.
Tanzania earned a total of $270 million (about Sh610 billion at the prevailing exchange rate) from the five traditional export crops. This was $70.9 million (about Sh160 billion) less than what the country earned from exports of cashew nuts alone.
The breakdown shows that Tanzania earned $154 million (about Sh348 billion) from coffee; $43.4 million (about Sh98 billion) from cotton; $36.8 million (about Sh83 billion) from tea; $18 million (about Sh40 billion) from cloves and $18.6 million (about Sh42 billion) from sisal respectively.
Against this background, MPs took turns to speak about cashew nuts in Parliament yesterday, with Mr Nape Nnauye (Mtama-CCM) and Ms Hawa Ghasia (Mtwara Rural-CCM) strongly opposing the government's proposal to amend the Cashewnut Industry Act (Cap 203) - through the Finance Bill 2018 - and collect export levies into the consolidated fund.
Data produced by the Parliamentary Budget Committee - which Ms Ghasia chairs - shows that the government has failed to remit a total of Sh201 billion to the Cashew nut Development Fund (which is managed by the Tanzania Cashew nut Board) as its (the Fund's) 65 per cent share from export levy proceeds for the crop during financial years 2015/16 and 2016/17 as required by law.