Jude Chinedu, Enugu
Cashew, a tropical tree, which produces edible seeds and juicy apple are special in the sense that when the seed is roasted and broken, one finds pear shaped snack popularly known as cashew nuts.
Nutrition experts posit that the consumption of cashew and its nuts can greatly help in weight management, prevention of gall stones, bone development and prevention of bone diseases, reduction of heart diseases and increases oral health. Cashew is also known to provide relief from diabetes and anaemia; also being rich in antioxidants, it boosts the immune system.
Aside from the health benefits inherent in its consumption, cashew nuts are a major raw material for the production of confectionery and bakery products such as sweets, ice creams, cakes and chocolates, bread and even butter. It is of such industrial value that it can be a revenue spinner for individuals and government if properly harnessed.
Fortunately for the people of Obollo-Afor, a lively commercial town in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, the area falls within the zones that produce this commodity in large commercial quantity. Obollo-Afor Market also serves as the commercial hub of the entire Nsukka zone and some parts of Kogi and Benue states making it a choice destination for cashew nuts dealers.
In the town, there are over 2,000 traders, mostly women, who are into the processing and packaging of cashew nuts for onward supply to consumers across major Nigerian cities. According to the traders, they have the capacity to process and supply over 5,000 bags of cashew nuts daily.
President, Cashew Nuts Processors Association, Obollo-Afor, Mrs Oluchi Onah, who has over 15 years experience in the business, told Daily Sun that cashew nuts processing is a tedious job despite its financial rewards:
“We usually make about N500 per bag and the highest one can process in a day is two or three bags. The process is manual and tedious, that is our major challenge here. We have over 1000 members under our association but some other persons are on their own.”
She revealed that the Federal Government through the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has provided a cashew nuts processing machine, which will help in reducing stress and boosting its daily production. She, however, said the machine has not been put to use as the local government was yet to complete the structure needed for its take-off:
«The export promotion council has provided a machine for processing of the product but it is not in use yet because the local government is still putting the structure in place. When it is done, we can now process with the machine, then we can make a larger quantity.”
She pleaded with both the local and state governments to assist cashew nuts traders with soft loans to enable them acquire modern processing equipment to boost production and income.
Another trader, Mrs Evelyn Onah, who joined the business in 2002, said it has lost steam because of the high cost of the raw materials. She revealed that, though it helped her in paying her children’s school fees and meeting some other basic family needs, so many other women have abandoned the business: “There was a time we bought a bag of unprocessed cashew nuts for N800. Later it came up to N1300. We made up to N3000 gain then. That was how so many people came to join the business. It helped our families greatly then.
“Three years ago, white men came into the business and started buying up raw cashew nuts at a very high price. The price went up to N18,000 each bag. It was difficult for us to make any profit. As a result, so many of our colleagues abandoned the business.
“This year, we have not seen those white men, so the price has also come down to between N9,000 and N10,000 per bag. We have also reduced the price we sell accordingly, so we can make about N500 to N1000 gain depending on the seed of the cashew one buys.
Mrs. Jecinta Ugwu and Mrs Gloria Ugwuagu, who have been in the business since 2006 said that it was a gift from God to the poor women in Obollo-Afor. Admitting that even though they have not built mansions with the proceeds of the trade, they are, however, grateful the trade puts food on their table.
Ugwuagu said: “I have been in the business since 2006 because that is the only business I know how. I am able to feed my family through it. It helps women in this town. The people that make money from the business are the ones that come to buy from us. We that are suffering here end up with nothing.”
Ugwu said: “We heard that these people that come here to buy from us take them to companies where they are used to manufacture biscuits, if government can build a biscuit company here, I believe our fortunes will change for the better.”
Mr Silas Andrew, manager, Nadis Cashew Nuts Company, told Daily Sun he decided to come to the town because it is “the centre of cashew trade” within the South East and middle belt region:
“Obollo-Afor is a centre of cashew nuts trade. I buy cashew nuts from Benue and Kogi states. We also have cashew nuts in large commercial quantities here in Ezimo, Umuitodo and other communities within Obollo.
“Although the process is hard, one can still make profit. We buy the raw nuts, process the whole thing before we now send them to other parts of the country and even abroad.”