Anga Sotonye is an Executive Committee member of the National Cashew Association of Nigeria and the Coordinator, Agribusiness & Youth Empowerment in Nigeria.
In this interview with ABOLAJI ADEBAYO, he speaks on what Nigeria is losing for her failure to fully harness the potential of cashew and other agro commodities for manufacturing industries’ benefits and the nation’s economic growth
Sir, could you give an insight into the process of preparing cashew for export and what it involves in processing it?
Yes, our equipment just arrived, cashew processing equipment. Right now, we are about to start assembling and all of that to process cashew nut into cashew kernel that is one of the ways we would soon commence aggressively.
To me, that is how we can create more jobs and we can earn more because locally there is a very big market for cashew. But, when it comes to export of raw cashew nut generally it is big business that I can always maintain that there is cash in cashew processing.
At a cashew warehouse like this, the process is straight forward. You buy any cashew from the farm gate, in the bushes, in places such as Enugu, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Kogi, Oyo, Abia and other parts of the country.
We buy the cashew directly from the farmers and bring them into the warehouse for processing and subsequent sale in local and international markets.
As a commodity exporter, could you expatiate on export potential of commodities like cashew, ginger, garlic and others?
We export cashew, ginger, sesame seeds and other agricultural commodities but our expertise is exclusively in trading and exporting value addition of these commodities, including plantation in the (blueprint) and management. Cashew for instance is a great crop.
I call it a winner crop because everything about cashew is just useful. You can imagine, when you plant cashew it becomes the first line of defence to fight erosion and you are contributing to an improved and a balance environment.
The canopy the cashew trees provide serves as shield for relaxation, and when it comes to the cashew nut itself, there is so much to it. You can take the cashew nut for export as raw cashew. In Nigeria, raw cashew nut is exported that is what we do predominantly.
Nigeria today produces 124,000 metric tons of cashew nut, just nut. We are not talking about cashew apple, and we are not talking about other by-products of cashew, just the nut alone.
When you talk about the apple we produce over a million metric tons of cashew apple that can easily be converted to cashew apple juice but over 90 per cent of that cashew apple juice is wasting during harvest because there is no processing.
In fact, there is zero processing in Nigeria for cashew apple so it is wasted.
Is there any nutritional value in cashew, what are the health benefits of eating cashew?
When you look at the cashew apple it is richer in vitamin C complex so when 90 per cent of that is wasted you can imagine the colossal loss the economy is going through in the first place.
We encourage people to consume cashew apple but people zero in on the cashew nut because this is where the economy potential of the cashew is, that is obvious so, everybody is going into the business by buying the raw cashew and exporting it. The cashew nut has zero cholesterol.
So, for the health-conscious consumers, cashew nut is preferable. When you go to somebody’s house and they bring cashew nut, ground nut and they drop the two before you, naturally you will go for the cashew nut because the cashew nut has greater appeal, it looks more prosperous and of course it is healthier but it is more expensive and because it is expensive you don’t find it everywhere. Mainly you find cashew nut in the home of the rich.
What is the value at the export market, do you have a benchmark for how much a bag of cashew is sold or do you sell per container?
The measurement actually is in tons and today a ton of cashew sells for $1200. We have 1000kg in a ton and 13 bags make one ton. In a container, you have to store about 17 tons. You can decide to ship 100 containers, 200 containers; it can be 1000 containers depending on the finance that is available to you.
Cashew is a big business and it is a serious business, it is a sector that should be supported strongly by the government because cashew is an industry that is not yet fully explored, the potential of the cashew industry has not been fully harnessed.
When you do not fully harness the potential of this industry it means that you are still as a nation that will be suffering from job loss, reduced income, you are suffering a whole lot of disadvantage. When you are exporting raw cashew your market globally is defeated than when you are exporting value added product.
Does Nigeria really depend on imported processed cashew?
Yes, we do.. When we export our raw cashew into Asia it is processed there and that processed cashew would have created jobs for their own people. By further exporting the processed cashew into Nigeria they are also earning foreign exchange for their countries and we buy it as Nigerians and we eat it.
What we have in Nigeria is low profile processing, which cannot be compared with the imported ones. We need, as a nation, to build very advanced cashew processing facilities because we have the capacity, we have the raw materials. We can take advantage of these raw materials to add value to them.
It can create local jobs for our people and we can sell the processed ones locally and also export them.
With your experience in cashew trading, what does it entail to have a state of the art world class processing plant for cashew?
You need on the average about $400,000 on the minimum and when you convert the money into naira, you are talking about N83 million. That is what we need on equipment alone, not to talk about the warehouse for the factory and all other things. So, why would you want to invest $400,000 of hard earn cash into processing when you are not sure of electricity.
If you don’t have electricity it means are going to be utilizing generator and diesel, which is also very expensive. You are going to compete with countries like Brazil, Vietnam, India and others that have constant electricity at a very low price. You want to use generator to process and compete with these countries, you cannot compete.
So, for us to be able to build a sustainable cashew industry we need to support the industry, a lot of government support is needed.
Right now, we know that as a country we don’t have stable electricity. So, government should give cashew processors some form of subsidy to subsidize their cost of electricity because running on generator is huge cost for them.
The other time you were trying to explain cashew nut and the economic value of its other components would you like to share some light on that?
The cashew nut I called the winner crop; it is so valuable because it is a big industry on its own. When you export raw cashew nut, you do not just export cashew nut alone. First of all when you crack this cashew nut you have what we call cashew nut shell, from the cashew nut shell you can extract cashew nut shell liquid which is called CNSL or shell liquid.
Cashew nut shell liquid is used for a lot of industrial applications including the manufacturing of insecticide and a whole lot of products. Cashew nut shell burns like wild fire and it contain bio fuel. When you come to cashew cannel, it is what people eat as a processed cashew nut.
You salt it, you can spice it with pepper depending on your taste. When you look at the whole value chain, it is a multi-billion dollar industry.
We in Nigeria pride ourselves as major producers of cashew with very insignificant processors. We cannot continue like that. That is why we have to change the way we do business.
We have to provide a lot of support, specialized, well articulated support for the cashew industry so that the industry can be built. We can harness the potential of our cashew crop, so that we can create more cashew millionaire in Nigeria, we can create more wealth from cashew.
Sir, how do you think government can support the private sector?
That is the critical thing. To create more wealth and create guarantee market for our cashew farmers is to create the industry here. All kinds of support should be given to the private sectors so that they can establish cashew industries in Nigeria.
The support should include tax wavers, subsidy to some level to reduce the cost of energy and all of that so that people can go on to create more byproducts from cashew in Nigeria. That is where the wealth is, that is where the job is, and that is where the economic potential of the crop is that will need to harness and develop.
The demand for Nigerian cashew nut is on the rise so we have to step up by increasing local production; we have to grow more cashew trees. It takes four years, when you plant cashew nut for it to grow into commercial viability.
At the fourth year for the next forty years you will be harvesting cashew on yearly bases. It is a good business, you plant your tree once and for the next forty to fifty years you will be harvesting from the same tree.
Government should encourage people to plant cashew and you see it will be important for the incumbent government of Buhari to do something radical that no government in Nigeria has done.
If you want to build an industry sometimes you need to be radical.
Today, our production capacity for the raw cashew nut is 144,000 metric tons annually. We need to step up our production, we need to step up production by two folds, we need to take our production to somewhere around 400,000 annually, that is what a serious government should be talking about.
Now if you ask me I can give you categorically and clearly that it is easy for