Factory boosts hope of new cashew nut dawn

Cashew nuts factory

Workers at Grow Fairly Limited, a macadamia and cashew nuts processing company based in Kilifi County.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • In 2009, the government imposed a ban on cashew nut exportation.
  • The ban prompted farmers to cut down their cashew nut trees.

Some 20 years ago, Lamu County was famed for its quality cashew nuts, which were grown in Mpeketoni, Hongwe, Lake Kenyatta Schemes, Witu, and Faza.

But the sector was crippled by various challenges, such as lack of a reliable market, resulting in farmers being exploited by middlemen who would often get their produce on the cheap.

The other challenge was that there was no cashew nut processing factory in the county, which exacerbated farmers’ marketing conundrum.

Then, in 2009, the government imposed a ban on cashew nut exportation in a move that was aimed at promoting local manufacturing. 

This meant only the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) could buy raw nuts.

The ban dealt a severe blow to the sector, prompting farmers to cut down their cashew nut trees.
Widespread poverty followed.

Mr Jonas Kariuki, a renowned cashew nut farmer in Hongwe in Lamu West, termed the 2009 ban as the last nail in the coffin.

“The ban allowed middlemen to exploit farmers with impunity. The brokers would set the prices with little regard for farmers’ production costs. We got discouraged and tired. We opted to grow crops like watermelon, maize, and cotton,” he said.

Revive the sector

Ms Mary Mugo from Mpeketoni echoed Mr Kariuki’s sentiments, saying, the unfavourable environment in the cashew nut production sector in Lamu County led to its total collapse.

There is, however, a ray of hope for the over 10,000 cashew nut farmers amid renewed efforts to revive the sector.

The county government has partnered with Equatorial Nut Processors and the British High Commissioner’s Office in Kenya, to kick-start the construction of a cashew nut processing factory in Hindi, Lamu West.

The Sh400 million facility, officials told Nation, will be able to process 200,000 tonnes of cashew nuts and will open its doors in September. Over 1,000 residents are set to be employed directly.

Lamu Governor Issa Timamy termed the establishment of the factory as timely.

“I view the unveiling of the first cashew nut processing plant in Hindi as a positive move in agroprocessing. The development is not only historic, but wil;l be a game-changer in unlocking the county’s economic potential. The factory will create over 1,000 jobs, hence increasing household incomes and generally improving the local economy,” said Mr Timamy.

During his recent tour of Lamu, British High Commissioner Neil Wigan lauded the move by Equatorial Nut Processors to build the factory after years of buying cashew nuts in Lamu and transporting them in shells to Maragua in Murang’a County.

At the same time, Mr Wigan called on the Kenyan government to ramp up its fight against Somalia-based al-Shabaab terrorists to boost security and pave the way for development and long-term prosperity of the region.

Lamu County has borne the brunt of terrorist attacks launched from al-Shabaab bases in Somalia as well as the insecure Boni Forest.

Empower farmers

The envoy said the British government is committed to working with Kenyan authorities to secure Lamu County.

“The realisation of the cashew nut processing factory in Lamu is a culmination of the cordial relationship between the UK government and the County Government of Lamu under Governor Issa Timamy. The UK government remains committed to working with Governor Timamy towards attracting investments for critical infrastructure and value chain projects,” said Mr Wigan.

Equatorial Nut Processors Chairman Peter Munga narrated how the mother factory in Maragua has, for the past 20 years, been incurring losses trucking cashew nuts in shells for over 400 kilometres.

He commended Mr Timamy for allowing his factory to invest in Lamu County, adding that the move will motivate farmers to ramp up production.

Mr Munga recalled that Kenya used to be one of the biggest cashew nut producer globally, but has since been overtaken by Tanzania.

“Equatorial Nut Processors is setting up a multimillion-shilling cashew nut factory in Lamu following favourable incentives and policies offered to us by the county leadership,” he said.

“Apart from providing over 1,000 jobs, we also intend to empower farmers to grow more cashew nuts,” Mr Munga added.

County Agriculture Executive James Gichu expressed optimism that the factory will restore the region’s lost glory in cashew nut production through the provision of seedlings and other forms of assistance to local farmers.

“We plan to make Lamu the leading cashew nut producer in the region,” Mr Gichu vowed.