BY COAST CORRESPONDENT
Cashew nut farmers are set to benefit from a new variety of seedlings developed by the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in the Coast region.
The organisation has rolled out a massive programme to empower farmers achieve their potential from the ‘dying’ nut industry.
The new technology to boost cashew nut production, according to Kalro director general (DG) Eliud Kiplimo Kireger, will change farmers’ production of nuts for higher incomes.
The research body has embarked on a programme to train the farmers at the grassroots level on the new technologies and distribute the new variety of seedlings it has developed.
Kireger, speaking during eight-day training for cashew nut farmers from Lamu County at Kalro Mtwapa on August 7, 2021, says there is potential of farmers producing up to 70kg per tree instead of the current 10kg.
“The main constraints have been reliance on aged trees, poor varieties, poor agronomic management, pest and diseases, fluctuating market prices and weak farmer organizations,” he adds.
Disclosing that Kalro has developed 14 cashew nut varieties, the DG says four of which have been certified already and have a potential to produce 1,680kg per acre compared to current yields of 500kg per acre.
He notes that cashew nut farming in Kenya covers about 23,000 hectares of land with an annual production of about 15,000 metric tons of nuts valued at Sh397.4 million.
“However, the potential production is under about 70,000 hectares of land with an annual production of 45,000 metric tons valued at about Sh1billion,” Kireger says.
According to the Kalro boss there is increased demand for cashew nuts and its products locally and internationally adding Kenya has great potential to exploit this opportunity.
The cashew farming is ranked third in world production of edible nuts that are traded globally with potential export markets being China, Japan, India, Netherlands, Israel, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Kireger said cashew is a perennial tree crop with good tolerance to water stress making it an exceptionally suitable crop for up scaling as a climate smart technology that can help the majority of farmers cope with the effects of climate change.
The crop thrives in well-drained sandy loam soils in tropical climates where temperatures average between 24 and 28 degree Celsius, although the trees can also survive at 40 degree Celsius.
According to Kalro cashew nut grows in areas between zero and 1, 000 metres above sea level, but the ideal altitude is 600 metres above sea level with rainfall requirements range between 600 to 1, 200mm per year but can also grow in areas of low rainfall of 400mm.
The major cashew nut producing counties are Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River and Lamu with minimal production found in Taita Taveta in the region.
Other counties engaged in cashew nut farming include Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Meru, and most recently, Makueni and Busia although on small scale.
The training is sponsored by the government and the World Bank through the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) to support the Big Four Agenda.
Kalro has seven centres in the Coast, including in Lamu, Malindi, Mtwapa, Matuga, Kikoneni, Mariakani and Bachuma that support agriculture and livestock research.
Senior research scientist at Kalro Mtwapa, Francis Muniu, says cashew powdery mildew is a fungal disease which attacks young cashew pinnacles and flowers, and eventually affects the apple and the nut, which may lead to 70-100 percent crop loss.
However, Kalro is currently evaluating several varieties for resistance or tolerance to the disease.
“Currently, we have 14 cashew varieties which we have developed and we are assessing them on their response to cashew powdery mildew.
“About four of them are very high yielding and we believe it is because they possess some tolerance to the disease therefore they are the ones currently we are promoting,” says Muniu.
The scientist adds they have sampled the various varieties all over the Coast region and also introduced materials from Tanzania and West Africa in a bid to get a resistant variety suitable for use locally.
Edited by Mwakera Mwajefa