Under the five-year program, the EU is providing funds to Ten Senses, a Kenyan agricultural company, to supply more than one million cashew seedlings to 15,000 farmers in the Kilifi, Lamu and Kwale counties.
The Kilifi county government has also committed itself to plant five million trees throughout the region.
This is besides rejuvenating another two million orchards through topping and grafting.
Breakdown of thriving industry
Stefano Dejack, EU ambassador to Kenya, said the project would address the hardships faced by the more than 100,000 farmers after the collapse of the country’s cashew nut industry.
Some blame the breakdown on the privatization of the Kenya Cashewnuts Factory, the sole processor in Kilifi, in 1993.
According to Kilifi governor Amason Kingi, shares were bought fraudulently by an investor and used as collateral for a bank loan.
“When the company failed to repay the loan, the factory was sold for Ksh50m ($494k). Even what remained of the factory was sold as spares for other processors like the cashew nut plant in Mtwara, Tanzania,” he alleged.
Kingi said more than 80% of Kilifi residents lost their livelihoods when the factory closed, while the majority of cashew nut trees were chopped by farmers who opted for alternative crops to survive.
At its height, the factory had 3,000 workers and processed more than 30,000 tons of cashew annually.
The cashew nut industry contribution to the country’s GDP was almost 4%.
Collaboration of EU member states
Dejak said the EU has collaborated with the Visegrad Group (v4) – a firm owned by Czech, Hungarian, Slovak and Polish governments – to ensure the project’s success.
While Slovakia will be in charge of marketing the cashew nut products from the region, Hungary will deal with processing, and Czech and Poland involved in providing technical expertise and equipment.
“The industry has had problems but let us come together and make the project a success,” said Dejak.
First on the list of the project is establishing cashew nut plantations with a hybrid cashew variety that matures fast. It takes 5-7 years for indigenous cashew nut tree species to reach maturity and 3-5 years for hybrid breeds to start producing nuts.
A processing plant with a capacity to process 400 tons of cashew nuts per month will then be built in Kilifi by 2019.
“We want to empower the community and have identified a private partner to set up a processing plant here. Organic cashew nuts will have a direct market to Europe,” said Dejak, noting that 20% of Kenya’s exports end up in the EU.
He said they were working on certification to ensure the farmers produce organic cashew nuts, which would add 20% more value and sold at a higher price.