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  • Growing Wealth

    Nov 10th, 2015

    The abandoned Premier Cashew Plantation located in Oghe and Oji River of Enugu State has been given a new lease after years of neglect, writes Chineme Okafor Premier Cashew which started in 1952 as the first commercial cashew plantation in Nigeria at Oghe in present day Enugu State, has served well enough to perhaps merit recent conversations on reviving its fortunes.

    Although, cashew was reportedly introduced in Nigeria by Portuguese traders around the 16th Century, exploitation of its commercial values however did not take off until around mid-1950s when the defunct Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC) started commercial cashew planting at Oghe, Oji, Udi, Isuochie, Kingie and Mbala in the East. Before ENDC’s commercialisation efforts and subsequent follow up of same by the Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC) at Iwo, Eruwa and Upper Ogun, many cashew trees grew and flourished in the wild-and were mostly used for afforestation and erosion control plants particularly in areas in eastern Nigeria.

    The pioneer interventions of ENDC and WNDC resulted in a turn-around fortune for the cashew industry, as more plantations were opened up with new varieties from India, Tanzania, Brazil and Mozambique to broaden the genetic base of the nut in Nigeria.  A little over 60 years down the line, cashew cultivation has spread across the stretches of Nigeria, and states in the South-east of Nigeria, like Enugu, Anambra and Abia, as well as those on the South-south and South-west areas such as Cross River, Oyo, Ekiti and Ogun amongst others now contribute immensely to Nigeria’s annual nut’s production and export tonnage.

    With anecdotal reports placing Nigeria in the first five of Africa’s top cashew producers-slugging it out with Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Tanzania and Mozambique-but the contributions of the country’s premier plantation at Oghe to this volume has however dwindled or almost frozen from imprudent management of the fortunes of the plantation. Situated on expansive landmass, the Oghe cashew plantation and its associated Premier Cashew Industries at Oghe and Oji River in Enugu State were for years abandoned and its once beneficial fortunes laid indolent, to indirectly scorn the economic judgements of the defunct ENDC on the commercial value of the nut.

    Lying in ruin for this long, the plantation and its fortunes attracted no attention, not even expert reports that it could yield in direct earning to Nigeria, an approximately N45 billion in 2015 moved any of its direct stakeholders to spare it a thought.

    But as providence would always seek out treasures from the substances of the earth, a new bride came the way of the 63-year-old cashew plantation-to tend, re-grow and restore its once glorious eras and fortunes.

    Oghe’s new bride-Novena Passportal, an indigenous agro firm said in its assessment of the prospects of the enduringly old plantation that, “it is befitting that it should be revitalised to bring about value addition and export of cashews and intercrops.”

    Without mincing word on what to do with the plantation, the Managing Director of Novena Premier Cashew, St. Jerome Onuaguluchi told THISDAY that an annual earnings of $70 million is expected to accrue to the farming and rural communities around the plantation and its environs once its four and half years regeneration plan on the plantation is concluded.

    Onuaguluchi further said on the status of the cashew plantation and its recovery plans that his company has entered into a long-term lease agreement with the government of Enugu State.

    He explained that within the terms of the lease, Novena plans to plough a whopping $54 million in renewing the plantation over four years, to support its expansion and re-cultivation of its old and diminished cashew trees.

    “The impacts expected from this revitalisation and expansion project are enormous, with over 400 co-operatives and 20,000 families engaged in the development of the plantation, 400 franchises established producing up to 3,000 tonnes of cashew kernel, 2,000 tonnes of cashew shell liquid (CNSL), 30,000 hectolitres of cashew apple juice, 20,000 tonnes of cassava starch and flour, 40,000 tonnes of pineapples for export, 1,000 tonnes of groundnuts, 10,000 hectolitres of fuel ethanol, 5,000 tonnes of animal and fish feed and monetising the farming and rural communities to the tune of over $70 million (over 10 billion naira) annually,” said Onuaguluchi in his explanations.

    The agreement, it was understood was first signed off by the immediate past government of Sullivan Chime, but has also been embraced by his successor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, whom reports indicate has shown tremendous support and enduring keenness to its overall objective.

    Enugu within the agreement will give its bureaucratic backing to the revival plan, while Novena will deliver the private sector stimulus to bring back the plantation’s lost glory.

    “The project concept is based on the intention to leverage the cashew plantation at Akama-Oghe and Oji River as well as cashew industry in Enugu State into an export processing facility for cashew.

    Cashew industry in Enugu State was started in the 1950s with the establishment of the Akama-Oghe and Oji River plantation in 1952 by the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation, as a result there is a proliferation of cashew trees in Enugu State, and around Akama-Oghe and Oji-River,” Onuaguluchi stated.

    Laying out details of the regeneration plan, he said: “However, because the cashew nut processing machinery at Akama-Oghe has not been functioning, the value chain has been broken resulting in small scale gathering of raw cashew nuts for export to India.

    “In the first year, facilities for processing 3,000 tonnes per annum will be put in place. Also facilities will be set up to process the cashew apple. The 50-years-old plus trees are no longer economic on a commercial plantation scale and the intention will be to start replanting.”

    “The intention would be to plant 4,000 hectares on yearly basis for four years. After three years, the new plantations are expected to start production and the yield based on 100 trees per hectare and 10kg/tree/hectare is about 1 tonne/hectare/annum,” he noted.

    He also explained that in the three years before the growth and re-establishment of the cashew trees, intercrops of cassava, pineapple, ground nut and other leguminous crops will be planted to keep the agrarian settlement economically busy.

    Oghe’s associated cashew processing plant which has also benefitted from the laid-back years, Onuaguluchi said, will equally get back its production groove.

    “In the interim, before the establishment of the new cashew plantation, raw cashew nuts will be purchased from the cashew processing factories that will be established.

    “The value chain of cashew harvesting, drying, marketing, processing within Enugu State will be re-established on the setting up of the first factory which will be accomplished within 3-6 months after the commencement of the project.

    “Initially, raw materials (raw cashew nut) will be sourced from within Enugu State. However in subsequent years when other factories are set up and before the cashew trees start producing, raw cashew nuts will be sourced from further afield in Ondo, Kogi and others,” he added.

    On the long haul, Onuaguluchi said: “After the third year, cashew trees planted in the new commercial plantations will start producing and external purchases would be reduced. An alternative would be to operate the factory on two shifts rather than one shift while still purchasing raw cashew nuts from further afield.

    “Local best cashew tree matrix, hybrid varieties from EMBRAPA and the Australian Cashew Programme will be employed for the establishment of the plantations

    “Nurseries will be set up and extension services will be extended to the beneficiary communities. Co-operatives will be set up within these communities and in exchange for their labour and land, they will have the right to harvest the trees and intercrops for which they will be paid thereby establishing a value chain.”

    The intercrops programme he said would involve the planting of cassava from which cassava flour, cassava starch, fuel ethanol will be produced, pineapple from which exports to Europe, pineapple juice, pineapple wine, bromelain and other products will be produced, groundnuts from which fried and roasted nuts, ground nut oil, ground nut cake and other products will be produced, as well as leguminous crops that will release nitrogen in soil and from which fodder will be produced.

    He explained further that the by-product and intercrop factory programme will constitute the agro-processing aspects of the overall revival programme, adding thus that a $200 million bio-ethanol refinery deal has already been signed with PAKOE of Greece on the project.

    An ambitious plan notwithstanding, Onuaguluchi however told THISDAY that reviving and restoring the glory of Oghe cashew plantation remains part of the larger plan to position Enugu as Nigeria’s next agro-processing shopping centre.

    “It is envisaged that these facilities will be established over a period of four and half years. The programme will then be extended later to incorporate additional purchasing and marketing operation, nurseries and extension services, primary and secondary processing factories and turning Enugu State as a major export processing for agro-products,” he said, as he gives a beam that suggests that the unproductive years could be over for 63-year-old Nigeria’s premier cashew plantation at Oghe.