Cashew nuts are gotten from the cashew tree which produces both the nuts and the cashew apple.
Cashew apples are edible and rich in vitamin C. They can be eaten raw, made into fruit juice or fermented into cashew wine. The nuts are rich in unsaturated fats and protein, low in sugar, and contain a lot of fibre.
They are also a great source of antioxidants especially polyphenols and carotenoid which help to reverse damage caused by free radicals in the body. Cashew nuts are sold with the shells removed as they contain a poison that can cause dermatitis.
The shells are used to produce a liquid called Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL). This liquid is used in paints, brake linings of vehicles, lubricants, varnishings, waterproofing, and so on.
Like the apple, the nut can also be eaten on its own, roasted or processed into cashew cheese or butter.
History of cashew nuts in Nigeria
Cashew nuts were first introduced in Nigeria in the early 16th century. Cashew trees help protect the land against erosion and deforestation, and this was one of the main reasons they were grown at first, especially in the Eastern region of the country.
The first plantations in the country were situated in areas like Eruwa and upper Ogun in the Western region, and Mbala and Oji in the Eastern region. The growth of the business was initially slow due to mismanagement and negligence on the part of the government, but it eventually picked up pace in the ’60s.
Currently, cashew is being cultivated in 19 states in the country according to the National Cashew Association of Nigeria (NCAN). These states are Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Niger, Nassarawa, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Taraba and Kwara. However, cashew can be grown virtually anywhere in the country.
Currently, Nigeria produces 120,000 tons of Cashew nuts annually with about 320,000 hectares of land being cultivated for the crop. She ranks as the 12th highest producer of cashew nuts in the world.
The country used to rank a lot higher; in fact, it ranked second in the world in 2004 and between 2010-2012. Lack of funding and processing facilities, as well as infrastructural deficiencies, crippled the sector. Another problem is the fact that cashew trees play host to a wide variety of pests and diseases.
From its roots to its stems, branches, flowers and even the cashew apple, no part of the tree is immune to an infestation. Examples of pests that infest them are Analeptes trifasciata (Cashew stem girdler) that affects the stems, Pachnoda cordata drury (Fruit scrapper) that infests the fruits, Selenothrips rubrocinctus (Red-banded thrips), and so on. These pests can wreak so much havoc that an infestation by just the cashew stem girdler can result in a loss of about 55% in the eventual yield.
Cashew trees are also affected by a good number of fungal diseases. Examples of these are Lasiodiplodia theobromae and Botryodiplodia theobromine that cause floral and shoot die-back, Pythium ultimum that leads to root rot of the seedlings, and Penicillium spp that causes the cashew nuts to decay. Lasiodiplodia theobromae is specially notorious as it can cause up to 70% loss in the nut yield as well as shoot death.
Cashew trees usually start producing fruits between 18-36 months of planting. The fruits start to develop 6-8 weeks after pollination has occurred. The nuts develop first while the apples develop 2 weeks before the fruit falls.
Some farmers prefer to pluck the fruits before they fall to prevent rotting and theft. However, you can obtain high-quality nuts by separating the nuts from freshly fallen. The fresh ones can be dried in the sun.
Distribution and how to Buy from Local Farmers
The Nigerian cashew sector is dominated by peasant farmers (they hold more than 60% of the cultivated land). These farmers supply their nuts to small traders who in turn sell to local buying agents. These local buying agents supply big companies outside the country where processing takes place. Cashew nuts account for 6-7% of the country’s non-oil earnings.
Before they can be exported, the seeds must meet certain criteria. They must be free from debris and insect damage. Also, must be thoroughly dried with a moisture content of less than 8.5%. The percentage of defects and impurities must be less than 5% for every 1kg sample. These criteria are put in place to control the quality of nuts that leave the country.
About 70-80% of the cashew nuts produced in Nigeria are exported raw. The processing industry is severely underdeveloped for now. This has a large impact on price as processed cashew nuts are worth more than three times the unprocessed ones.
Online marketplaces like Cokodeal allow you to easily connect with local farmers or traders with quality Cashew produce for sale.