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Good news for growers and processors:

A new lease of life for cashew industry


Cashew nut has developed a distinct identity in the world as a snack food even in comparison with other competing tree nuts such as, almonds, pistachio and walnuts. Its rich food value in terms of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins are acceptable not only to consumers, but also to medical and food scientist.

Cashew (Anacardiumoccidentale) was introduced from Brazil to Sri Lanka by early Portuguese settlers in the 16th century and later spread as a dry land crop in the drier parts of the country and now has become an important agricultural crop. However, cashew cultivation caught the eyes of agriculturists only after the Independence, particularly after the establishment of the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation (SLCC) in 1973.

The SLCC in the 70s initiated successful programs to promote cultivation and increase production. State owned commercial plantations were established in the North, East and North Western provinces. As a result, private plantations too were established, and cashew became one of the important crops in Sri Lanka creating more employment opportunities to a larger number of farmers and small-scale processors in these provinces.

The distinguishing features of cashew crop are:

1. It is highly drought tolerant and can be cultivated in the dry areas.

2. It gives good yields even under water scarcity conditions.

3. It gives the highest return for a given investment among horticultural crops.

4. It is not as labour intensive as other plantation crops.

5. It is an easy marketable commodity, liked by many, with an export demand.

Production and present status:

Cashew is cultivated in almost all the districts. The extents are substantial in the dry zone especially in Puttalam, Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Trincomalee, Kurunegala, Batticaloa and Hambantota.

Statistics show a slow and steady increase in production over the last few years in other districts. Presently, approximately 42,000ha are under cashew and produce around 10,000mt of raw nuts which is only about 50% of the local demand. Out of the total extent about 75% is in bearing stage. The national average yield per tree is approximately 3-4 kg/tree/year which is far below the potential yield (10-15 kg/tree) and yield obtained by many other cashew growing countries. The production trend has to catch up fast so the during the next 10 to 15 years, the country produces sufficient cashew nut to fulfill the local as well as the export demand. Some of the major constraints responsible for poor productivity are un organized orchards, poor agricultural methods, pests, old heterogeneous population of trees, poor or low yielding varieties and multiplication of plants from unknown pedigree stocks and poor quality seeds.

On the other hand the latest export statistics show that, cashew exports gaining momentum but at a slower rate during the last few years. This does not, however, indicate that demand for export had dropped. Therefore the full potential of the export market can be fully exploited only if sufficient raw nuts are made available through increased production.

Unlike other crops in the plantation sector, cashew has received low priority in development during the past and hence significant investment programs have not been implemented to uplift this industry. Cashew is a crop with tremendous potential, especially in the dry zone, where no other competing plantation crop can be grown successfully, under conditions of water scarcity. There is a potential for increasing productivity up to 15 kg/tree/year by using improved

varieties and crop management practices. However steps are being taken by the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation to cultivate about 5000 acres per year and 25000 acres during the next six years.

Research and Development Efforts:

Recognizing the important factors of cultivation and constraints to production and their contribution towards low productivity, the SLCC together with Faculty of Agriculture and Plantation Management of the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka developed a cashew research program to address some of the key issues of production and its activities at present. The activities of this project are based on the following objectives.

1. Development of improved varieties.

2. Generation of planting material.

3. Improvement of agro techniques and plant protection methods.

4. Efficient use of fertilizers and related inputs.

5. Improvement of post harvest techniques

6. Establishment of basic infrastructure facilities needed to strengthen the vital areas of cashew research.

1.Development of improved varieties and quality planting material

Several cashew varieties have been cultivated in the past. Some of the varieties were, Kondachchi, Mannar, Trinidad, Batticaloa,

Shanthigudu, Ulal, Vital and some indigenous types. They have been

propagated by seeds and continuous propagation by seeds without any attempt to maintain varietal purity has had negative effects on genotypes because of the cross pollination habit of cashew.

Non availability of any form of improved varieties and the use of seedling progenies from mixture of unknown varieties has been one of the most important causes for low productivity of cashew in Sri Lanka. Therefore the importance of developing high yielding varieties and production of quality grafted planting material from these high yielding elite varieties was recognized.

A need of multiplying these materials and making them available to growers, is given top priority under the present work plan of the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation.

a. New varieties: As a result of the collaborative research program conducted by the Faculty of Agriculture, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka and the SLCC, six new varieties were produced and released, three in 2005 and three in 2007.

The varieties are high yielding with a potential over 10kg/tree/year and with medium to large kernels. They are all with ivory color and trees have shown wide adaptability and uniformity.

These varieties would give a yield increase between 200 to 300% over the existing production.

b. Planting Material Production Units: The five PM production units (mother plant gardens) established in 5 locations are capable of producing 1.6 M planting material to meet the national requirement as identified by the ministerial policy document. This would enable the SLCC to meet its PM targets and the future production plans. In the past, production of PM had been a critical factor in many sectors where non availability of PM at any given time has caused severe drawbacks in meeting the production targets. Planting material production of new varieties at Elluwankulama Estate (Puttalam district) owned by the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation continues at present and it is expected to produce the required PM targets for 2011 onwards.

(Note: However, due to poor maintenance and lack of interest on above mother plant gardens, by farmers expected results have not been able to obtain. However a new lease of life has been given since June 2010 and it is expected to deliver good results in 2012 onwards.)

2. Improvement of agro techniques and plant protection methods.

Several agronomic recommendations were developed for cashew cultivation and have been introduced to farmers by the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation.

3. Efficient use of fertilizers and related inputs.

Soil and fertilizer related experiments were conducted and recommendations were made on application of fertilizers.

a. Effect of different soil types on growth of cashew.

b. Suitable nursery media and fertilizer management in cashew nurseries

c. Detail recommendation on fertilizer application

d. Nutrient mapping of soil properties of Eluwankulam mother plant garden

4. Improvement of post-harvest techniques/Innovation of Byproducts

Preliminary studies on developing cashew syrup, vine and jam from cashew apple have been conducted successfully and acceptable products have been developed. Methodology of these products will be made available for commercial level production after fine tuning. The cashew shelling machine was also a result of the cashew research project developed by an entrepreneur) with the assistance and guidance of Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation.

5. Establishment of basic infrastructure facilities needed to strengthen the vital areas of cashew research.

During the past 13 to 14 years, the research arm for the SLCC was developed and strengthened, but was a slow process. Two small-scale research laboratories were established at Kamandoluwa and Achchigewatte. Limited amount of funds and facilities were provided to these two units. Carder positions were created and Research staff was recruited to carry out the activities. Research fields were identified and long-term experiments were established. 200 acres at Elluwankulama was developed in to germplasm conservation unit and major planting material production unit while maintaining the mother plant stocks.

This would serve as a major mother plant conservation and distribution unit for the whole country. All mother plants have been characterized and well documented. Adaptive research trials were also established in several locations in the country to test the adaptability of recommendations in farmer fields. The research unit has been given a new lease of life by giving it the necessary financial and other administration support by the new board of directors by 2010.

6. New steps to be taken by the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation with the approval of the Ministry of Minor Export Crops Promotion for the development of the Cashew Industry.

* Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation will be introducing a new price structure (a fixed price) for the benefit of the cashew farmers.

* Enable the farmer to make a substantial profit by the farmer by selling their production to the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation at a high price.

* Ensure a steady local and foreign Market.

* The farmer to be protected and by guaranteeing the price of raw cashew nuts.

* Introduction of a floor price depending on the production and the demand * Steps will be taken to protect the farmer and the consumer from exploitation by middle men who are not involved in the cultivation or processing.

* The SLCC will be undertaking a project with the approval of the Ministry to give out lands to investors and cultivators to grow cashew in Mannar, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts.

The writer is the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation

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