Mr Tola Faseru is the current President of the National Cashew Association of Nigeria (NCAN). The organisation recently got a recognition from the Nigerian Christian Youths Political Platform (NICHYPP). He spoke to Newton-Ray Ukwuoma about the many developments in cashew production, importation and processing.
What would you say has been the goings-on in the National Cashew Association of Nigeria for the past five year?
All we have done is to create a new template for all the people involved in the cashew value chain. We believe in what cashew can do, how it can change the fortune of those players in the value chain from the farmer, to the small buyer, to the merchant, to the exporters, to the processor and even to those providing services to the subsector. That is what we are trying to do for the past five years. We are trying to bring cashew from oblivion to the limelight. And one of my commitments was that we will make the government see the beauty and the real economic value of cashew and we have done just that within the five years we started.
The last administration named cashew as one of the transformational crops in Nigeria. How have you been able to sustain that today?
Yes. We worked very closely with the past Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, who, based on our interaction and the work we have done, named cashew a transformational crop under the Agricultural Transformational regime of that time. And from that point, cashew became something that the government began to focus on. So we are very, very grateful to God for what we have done so far, not only national. In this administration, cashew has been listed as one of the thirteen strategic products that the government wants to use to diversify the economy and get it out of recession. Among those thirteen products, we had only five agricultural products, namely rice, oil palm, cassava, cocoa and cashew. That cashew made it to this list brought joy to us. It proved that we refused to let the circumstances deny us of what we could do. And internationally, we have liberated our farmers, we have liberated the Nigerian people who are into cashew farming. Several years back, our cashew only circulated within us as roast nuts. There was no market for it, but we moved to Vietnam and we began to see great opportunities in exporting cashew. At that time cashew was in the hands of our foreign friends, who determined when, and when not, to buy. Most of our farmers were left in the cold, they invest money and never saw it. But we went to Vietnam and told them that Nigeria would like a business relationship and direct transaction. Now, Vietnam buys about 85 per cent of what we produce. We signed a memorandum of understanding to supply 80,000 tons. That same year that was in 2013 by 2014 we had supplied about 106,000 tons. In 2016, we moved to 136,000 tons. And now we see beyond the export market, we are talking about upscaling the production. Everybody has found cashew planting as something worth the while and many plantations are going on all over the country. Before our current Minister of Agriculture talks two commodities he mentions cashew. And for the first time, he flagged the cashew planting season. We are already planning the second edition this year. I think the agenda that we have to make Nigeria one of the topmost cashew producing countries in the world is on course. The stories from our farmers are amazing. We no longer have poor farmers any longer. Our farmers are able to build houses, buy cars and are able to send their children to school. They are happy farmers, they are prosperous farmers.
You sound very excited about these developments.
Yes. And there is more. I am looking at a situation, a day near in coming, when we have our farmers driving air-conditioned tractors, fully mechanised agriculture, where production and cultivation can go on without too much hassle. We are quite excited about what we have done.
Are you making efforts to reach the federal government; if you are, are they with you on this?
Yes. We have been clamouring for Cashew Development Funds, which the Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Chief AuduOgbe is currently working on. We are also talking to developmental agencies like African Development Bank. We expect that very soon a lot of funds will start coming to the industry to help processing and cultivation of cashew, as well as other infrastructural issues. We are also clamouring for national policies that will favour cashew cultivation and processing. We are asking for the institutionalisation of a National Cashew Council, which will give speed to the things we want to do, make polices on major areas as well as give the industry an executive direction, well-funded and backed by government.
What are some of the areas that young people can easily go into?
Like I mentioned early, cashew has an all-round economic value since no part of it is wasted. One of the things we tried to do was to bring this product to the frontal view of government as a viable area of investment. That, in itself, is crucial. Knowing that cashew is one of the products that the government wants to use to drive the economy suggests that there is, and will continue to be, government focus on cashew cultivation and processing especially in terms of policy support. Even if it is just having the plantation, young people can make huge success with that. Now, most state governments are making available land for cashew production. Kwara State, for instance, has promised to releases about 38,000 hectares of land for cashew cultivation during our flag off ceremony. Already the Edo State government is talking about making land available for cashew. Secondly, today the gestation period of cashew has shortened and that is a lot of good news for farmers. Once cashew starts to produce, one can continue to reap from the same tree for over fifteen years. This is a commodity that you can seek foreign exchange from. It is an export crop. That tells us that we have an open market, both locally and internationally. With cashew, you can’t get it wrong. You can be a rich farmer. Cashew is about N400, 000 per tonne.If you have a hundred hectare of cashew plantation today, you are can be earning 40 million naira every year. And cashew does not require too much care. General weeding, guiding against bush burning are all a farmer needs to do after plantation. And cashew can be grown all over the nation. It is one of crops that does not require super soil. Our youth can take advantage of cashew either for cultivating, merchandising or for small scale processing.
What is the statistics of investment that can put cashew in good stead with investors?
Right now, cashew is yielding over 300 million naira per annum. That’s a lot. But we can do more because we have Portugal doing over 20 billion naira with cashew. The whole of the non-oil earnings in Nigeria is 3 billion. Cashew is only contributing 10 per cent to the non-oil investment in Nigeria. If a country can produce as much as 20 billion, I believe by the time we upscale our production, by the time we do more of value addition we will achieve that. It is not something we cannot achieve. With better policies, finance and encouragement, we will get there.