The rapid production growth of cashew in the country, especially within the forest-transition zone, is consuming sizeable farmlands and thus posing a threat to sustainable production of food crops in the country’s food basket.
Cashew production has become a penchant for most farmers in areas like Techiman, Nkoranza, Wenchi, Atebubu, Kintampo, Jaman North and South, Nkrankwanta and Dormaa among others. Eventually, the new love for cashew cultivation by farmers is fast shrinking farmlands for the production of other food crops such as maize, yam, cassava, groundnut and watermelon.
The craze for cashew production is not only blazing in the transitional belt but also some parts of the forest zone as well. According to experts, cultivation of cashew in the forest area is not recommendable. Agronomists say cashew grows more vegetative in forest zones, and is unable to fruit well to produce the needed nuts. Contrary to agronomic advice, farmers in forest communities including Bechem, Duayaw-Nkwanta, Atronie and Tepa are busily growing the economic tree crop.
The B&FT has learnt that perennial post-harvest losses in food crops production has fuelled the alteration of focus to cashew. Thanks to growing demand for the commodity, it is comparatively less stressful to access market for raw cashew nuts (RCN). Sometimes at favourable buying periods, farmers even sell off RCN at the farm gates – but the same cannot be said about other food crops.
A 53-year-old farmer at Wenchi, Theresa Benewaa, in an interview said last year the price of cassava dropped drastically, compelling her to cut down a two-acre farm to grow cashew. “Around September 2019, a fully-loaded tricycle (motor king) was sold between GH¢100 and GH¢80; this included harvesting labour cost. I’m fed-up with the reoccurring losses in cassava production. I have resolved to grow cashew on my lands and leave just a piece for subsistence food crops’ farming.”
Yaw Yeboah is a small-scale farmer at Atronie in the Sunyani Municipality: “I inherited cocoa farming from my father, but I have realised it is less difficult to maintain a cashew farm than cocoa; therefore, I have started cashew farming instead of expanding my cocoa farm. Other crops like cassava and plantain that grow well here too don’t fetch much, particularly with bumper harvests – hence the decision to try cashew”.
People have also adopted cashew farming as a way of insuring agricultural investment. Cashew as a cash crop is a permanent and reliable source of income compared to a food crop like maize. Again, the demand for farmlands is exponentially growing, and as a means to secure lands per head, people have resorted to cashew cultivation to protect their lands.
Another issue driving cashew production to the detriment of food crops is the implementation of government’s flagship ‘Planting for Export and Rural Development’ (PERD). The programme is aimed at promoting rural economic growth and improving household incomes of rural folk, through the cultivation of cash crops such as cashew, mango, shea, cotton, rubber and coffee. Free distribution of cashew seedlings under PERD by District Assemblies has whet the appetite of many to join production of the ‘new gold’. Averagely, each district distributes about 150,000 seedlings every year.
In response to this phenomenon, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) has stepped up efforts to increase food crops productivity per a unit of land to make up the imminent shortfalls in production. The Bono Regional Extension Officer, Isaac Adjei-Mensah, told B&FT that the ministry is among others giving out more improved varieties that guarantee higher yields.
“MoFA has intensified extension services, coupled with the supply of fertilisers and agrochemicals like pesticides and insecticides. All other things being equal, we expect farmers to produce about 90 percent of the projected yields for the various crop varieties produced by researchers,” he said.