Dar es Salaam — The government has outlined interventions intended to increase cashew nuts production as statistics indicate falling yields in the last five years.
The measures, according to Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga, include establishing a special fund which would lend agricultural inputs to farmers.
The government has scrapped the Cashewnut Industry Development Trust Fund (CIDTF) for what was described as failure to perform since it was established in 2010. In the event, its responsibilities were immediately shifted to the Cashewnut Board of Tanzania (CBT).
Other measures are to financially empower CBT and the Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (Nari); increasing the number of cashews extension officers, and trading the produce online - in addition to trading via the current Warehouse Receipt System (WRS).
Reports indicate that cashew nuts production was in decline in the last five years.
The cashew nuts production trend posted on the CBT website shows that 344,000 tonnes of cashew nuts were produced in the 2015/16 farming season. This increased to 358,000 tonnes in 2016/17.
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Then production declined to 303,000 tonnes in 2017/18; 232,000 tonnes in 2018/19, and 227,778 tonnes in the 2019/20 season.
But Mr Hasunga told The Citizen at the weekend that there was no need to worry regarding the trend because the measures will boost production.
"Production will gradually rebound and reach our target of one million tonnes in the next five years," he said on the 'phone.
Revealing that the government will create a special fund to provide farmers with inputs on easy credit terms, the minister said "the problem isn't inadequate supply of agricultural inputs, but farmers' inability to purchase. The fund will provide them with agricultural inputs on loan, recoverable after farmers sell their produce."
The mechanisms adopted this year in cashews trading will provide CBT with operational funds after it struggled for years over budget constraints, as well as bolster extension services to farmers.
Nari has also been financially empowered to increase its research capacity and develop high-quality cashew varieties that mature within a relatively short period.
According to him, in addition to trading cashews through WRS, the merchandise will also be sold via the Tanzania Mercantile Exchange (TMX) to attract early arrival of buyers from all over the world.
"This would enable us to avoid colliding with competitors, resulting in decline in prices," he said.
Mr Hasunga said cashew growing regions have increased from five to 20, which should increase output in the next few years.
But, cashew stakeholders attributed the production downfall to farmers' frustrations with poor access to agricultural inputs, compounded by instability in the market.
The executive director of the Agriculture Non-State Actors Forum (Ansaf), Audax Rukonge, said price instability and unavailability of agricultural inputs discourage farmers.
Also, the amounts of cashew nuts bought by small and medium domestic processors are not included in the total annual production despite their major contribution to the economy.
Tanzanian regulatory frameworks and guidelines require small and middle-scale processors to buy a minimum of 50 tonnes at auctions.
"The law is oppressive to small and medium scale cashew processors. They need to be supported and assisted to secure loans from financial institutions, and also land from district and town councils," he said.
Furthermore, research should be done to establish the possibility of the cashew market operating throughout the year as a matter of course.
Masasi and Mtwara Cooperative Union (Mamcu) general manager Protence Rwiza said disbandment of the CIDTF led to decline in production.
"This was an important tool for cashew farmers especially in the provision of agricultural inputs. However, we have discovered where we erred, and we held discussions with the Agriculture minister and his deputy on the need to introduce an alternative fund," he said.
The Tandahimba Farmers Association (Tafa) chairman, Mr Faraji Njapuka, said that, on top of the inability to get agricultural inputs, some farmers were discouraged by the government's failure to pay on time and in full for cashew nuts sold in the 2018/19 harvest season.
"Unpaid Raw Cashew Nuts (RCN) sent to some warehouses of Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies (Amcos) and Cooperative Societies in the 2019/20 season could discourage them further," he said.
Tunduru Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Union (Tamcu) general manager Imani Kalembo suggested that strong cooperation between the government and society union leaders was required in order to revive and increase cashew production in the country.