Tanzania: Mkinga cashew farmers grapple with ravaging pests
By PETER MOHAMED IN TANGA
CASHEW was once one of the leading export earning crops in the country, grown only in the Southern Regions – Lindi and Mtwara until a decade or so ago. In Coast Region, a few plants would be spotted amidst shrubs.
The crop is still dominated by southern regions where hundreds of trees are gown, with a single farmer owning as much as 300 hectares – quite a remarkable stride, at least in as far as Tanzania’s standard is concerned.
Other regions, having learnt about the economic benefits of the crop, are engaging in cashew farming, one of them Tanga, where a total of 187,041trees have so far been planted, most of them now at harvesting stage.
Mkinga District, the newest administrative district, established in 2006, after a split from Muheza, is leading, closely followed by Pangani. The crop had, until recently, been benefiting the farmers dismally in that most of the raw cashew was smuggled across the border to Kenya, until a few years when local leaders ‘woke up from slumber’ and arrested the situation. They did so through formation of public auction and revival of agricultural marketing societies.
An equally challenging and distressing problem was the attack of cashew trees by diseases and insect pests which are presently no longer a threat in southern regions where farmers there are now able to deal with the problem effectively.
“Cashew trees are prone to attack by about twenty one diseases”, says Nzaro Kijo, Mkinga District Cashew Coordinator – a seasoned expert in management of cashew trees. At the launch of this season’s insecticide spraying of trees, which was hosted recently at Horohoro Kijijini, hardly three kilometers from the Tanzania – Kenya common border, emphasis was made on the use of insecticides.
The use of insecticide, pesticide and fungicide is, according to Kijo, aimed at tackling the disease squarely so that trees grow healthily and produce cashew nut of better quality and in sufficient quantity, hence increasing farmers’ purchasing power as well as create earnings for district council. The launch was attended by extension officers from the district’s villages as well as extension officers neighbouring the district.
Also in attendance was a Kikohoki cashew growing group, thirty of them, who are famous in the growing and developing tree seedlings through nurseries. The group also deals in processing cashew nuts and prevention of various diseases affecting the crop. Several farmers groups from villages in the district had earlier, about two years ago, undergone training on prevention of diseases affecting cashew trees.
The seminars had been conducted jointly by Commission of Science and Technology (COSTECH) and Mkinga District Council. The most serious scourge affecting the trees, according to cashew experts, is powdery mildew – a fungal disease caused by small fungi not visible by naked eye, except microscope. The virus affect all tender parts of a tree as well as those sprouting from the stem, mostly tender branches or leaves.
In the words of Kijo, the disease can be controlled by occasional weeding, thinning –that is removal of overcrowded trees and proper pruning to allow aeration. It can also be controlled by chemical use – those approved by Tanzania Pest Research Institute (TPRI) followed by trials carried out by Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). Another equally destructive elements are insect pests.
These minute creatures suck juice from all tender parts of a tree - creating entry points for other organisms which cause disease, resultant effect being low quality of raw cashewnuts and poor quality of cashewnuts. Cashew blight, another hopeless disease, appear where rains are intermittent – raining out of season.
They manifest themselves in black spots on leaves, causing leaves to ultimately wither and dry up. Use of chemicals through spraying is the solution. So far, the district has trained over 600 farmers and extension officers on the use of pesticides, insecticides and fungicide, according to the co-ordinator.
Kijo says a total of 13 wards and 24 villages have been supplied with motor blowers. “We are working with the number we have, but more blowers are needed to satisfy the demand of the growing number of farmers in need of the items,” he says.
Mkinga District has a total of 2563 farmers who have so far cultivated 187,041 trees-almost all at harvesting stage. A kilogramme of cashewnut earns 1,600/= on average, against 400/= sold in black market previously. *Peter Mohamed is a veteran journalist based in Tanga.