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September 07, 2008

Benefits of Kenyan ban on export of raw cashew hampered by lack of processing capacity

Kenyan farmers have criticised a ban on raw cashew nut exports by the government, saying it would have no impact due to lack of processing capacity.

Agriculture minister William Ruto imposed the ban recently, arguing that farmers would fetch better prices if the nuts were processed before export.

“At the moment we sell nuts at Sh55 a kilo, but with few buyers prices will fall,” said Ms Fauzia Kassim, a Kwale farmer. She said there were no cashew nut processing factories in Kwale.

However, farmers in Lamu are hopeful that the ban would encourage small-scale processors, but asked the minister to intervene in addressing other challenges facing the sector.

According to Mr Gathende Gachanja, a consultant on agriculture who has done extensive research on cashew nut and coconut production at the Coast, Mr Ruto erred in issuing the ban without first building capacity and supportive infrastructure. “We are all for value addition and we agree that farmers should be able to fetch better prices for their produce. But what is the rationale in banning export of raw cashew if there is no processing capacity?” he asked.

He said that there was need to set up a committee to determine the challenges farmers faced, including cost of farm inputs and production levels before even thinking of effecting the ban.

The country has the potential of producing over 30,000 tonnes of cashew nuts per year, but the current production stands at barely 10,000 tonnes per year, Col (rtd) J K Nzioka, the operations director of Kenya Nut Company said.
There are no high yielding and early maturing varieties in research centres, he said.

The region relies on cashew nut trees that are over 40 years old, well beyond their optimal production levels. Other factors contributing to the low production include poor crop husbandry leading to high disease and pest incidents, inadequate training of farmers, lack of extension agents on nuts management, high cost of farm inputs and equipment and competition from other crops, Mr Nzioka said.

When the Kilifi cashew nut factory collapsed in the 1990s, farmers were left with no option other than to sell raw nuts to agents who export them to Tanzania and India for processing.

Business Daily Africa

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