By Elizabeth Chatuvela
SILUMBA Likulile (not real name) is a fisherman in Mongu but he now has to find an alternative source of income because the fish stocks in the Zambezi River are depleted.
His children go to school and he pays medical bills from money earned from selling fish. With the depleted stock, he catches little or no fish. This has consigned him to poverty as he can no longer provide for his family.
Luckily for him, attention in the district is shifting to growing cashew trees and like many other fishermen, Likulile has a fresh opportunity to earn an income and keep poverty on the fringes.
He and many others are now set to drive the diversification through growing cashew trees, whose product is expected to add to the nation’s exports.
The high value crop with an annual production at about 2.1 million tonnes of raw nuts and an estimated value of between US$1.5 and 2 billion, has been considered a miracle crop for the province because of the sand which favours it.
This is why the Zambian government with support of the Africa Development (AfDB) has pumped in US$55.4 million in the cashew industry as an intervention to fight poverty.
Of the US$55.4 million, US$45,000 is a loan from AfDB while Government pumped in US$ 8.3 and US$2.1 contributed by the beneficiaries.
The move by Government to boost the cashew industry has elated residents and the traditional leadership.
The residents say the project promises a bright future for the province which has repeatedly been at the bottom of the poverty pyramid.
The Cashew Infrastructure Development Project (CIDP) which will be implemented over a period of five years, will cover Mongu, Limulunga, Sikongo, Senanga, Sioma, Shangombo, Sikongo, Lukulu, Kalabo and Mitete.
The project has under it 60,000 households, of which fifty percent are women headed households. The targeted households are expected to plant 100 trees each, thereby producing a total of six million plants by the end of the project.
Among the benefits expected from the project are the large-scale investors who will process the nuts, outgrower schemes and these are expected to facilitate improved feeder roads, setting up of research facilities, farmer centres, nurseries and clone gardens.
The rehabilitation of existing plantations and establishment of new farms and plantations at individual farm level will equally be supported.
It is also expected that cottage processing plants, collection and sorting sheds, and bulking facilities at community level will be set up.
A resident of Namushakende, Akuzhila Kamba who has been in cashew farming for 15 years said the step taken by Government should be commended as it will help many families fight poverty.
He said the support shown by Government has motivated them to plant more trees.
Another resident, Kombelwa Mubita, who planted her first plant in 2001, said she is excited that the much talked about project has finally kicked off.
“We have heard so much about this project and we are, therefore, delighted that it is finally taking off,’’ she said.
And headman Simwanangule Yembeyembe of Kakulo village said he has 100 plants and plans to expand the plantation to meet the target of the CIDP programme.
It is an opportunity he feels will turn residents into billionaires and he urges all to take it seriously.
The CIDP was launched recently in Mongu district by Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya.
Ms Siliya emphasised during the launch that there is the need for the local people to take ownership of the project, which will in turn help transform their lives.
Ms Siliya said the CIDP is being implemented on a large scale in order to urgently bring down poverty levels in the province.
Government wants to see that only people who are committed and industrious spearhead the project so that it eventually contributes to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Misappropriation of funds is another concern for Government. Its emphasis is that the funds should go to the intended purpose and the responsibility has been given to the provincial administration and district commissioners to ensure the project is on schedule.
The AfDB is confident that Western Province can be transformed into a flourishing corridor if the funds are correctly applied.
Resident representative Damoni Kitabire says his bank’s analysis shows that the investment is worthy it, with economic returns expected at 25 percent.
With his project in place, there is nothing to prevent farmers from expanding production and processing of the nuts into a world class product.
The bank is a resolute advocate of Zambia’s diversification programme and it looks forward to the commissioning of the first shipment of cashew nut exports.
Provincial Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu has pledged to take ownership of the project and work round the clock to ensure that the funds are used for the intended purposes.
Farmers need to rise to the occasion because the market for the product is available.
The chain store, Shoprite, is ready to buy all cashew products for its stores.
The BRE has commended government for implementing the project aimed at uplifting the lives of the people in the area and it will give out land for the cultivation of cashew to those who need it.
The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew seed and the cashew apple.
It can grow as high as 14 m but the dwarf cashew, growing up to 6 metres, has proved more profitable, with early maturity and higher yields.
The cashew seed, often simply called cashew, is widely consumed. It is eaten on its own, used in recipes, or processed into cashew cheese or cashew butter. The cashew apple is a light reddish to yellow fruit, whose pulp can be processed into a sweet, astringent fruit drink or distilled into liquor.