Obollo-Afor, the headquarters of Udenu Local Government Area in Enugu State is known for production of cashew nuts, avocado pears, plantain, banana, mangoes, among others.
Today, cashew nut production has placed the community on a global scale.
People troop to Obollo-Afor from all over the world to buy the commodity.
Consumers from Europe, America and Asia, as well as other African countries, scramble over the cashew nuts from Obollo-Afor from time to time.
From being something the locals cherish to consume a lot, cashew nut has gradually transformed to an economic backbone of the people, with hundreds relying partly or wholly on it for their upkeep and survival.
In the past, the people used it partly as food, and partly as kola to entertain visitors. But today, the story has changed; it now serves as a means of livelihood to many people.
Of all other businesses in the area, cashew nut business is believed to be the highest employer of labour.
Apart from Obollo-Afor, cashew nuts can also be found in Orba, Ibagwa, Igbo-Eze modern market, Oghe and 9th Mile Corner market, all in Enugu State.
As of 2016, Nigeria had become the sixth largest producer of raw cashew nuts in the world, producing about 120,000 metric tonnes every year.
Today, the figure has risen. According to the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Ezra Yakusak, Nigeria exported 315,677 metric tonnes of raw cashew nuts valued at $252 million, accounting for 5.24 percent of the country’s non-oil export in 2022.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also disclosed that in the first quarter of 2023, N27.1 billion of cashew nuts in the shell were exported, with the Republic of Vietnam topping the list, while N6.8 billion of cashew nuts shelled were exported.
As early as 6:00 am every Afor-market day, which comes up every four days, the cashew nut market in Obollo has started booming.
People come with raw cashew nuts from as far as Benue and Kogi states, as well as the neighbouring communities of Amalla and Ezimo, both in the same Udenu Local Government Area.
The interesting thing about the business is that before 8:00 am, the market has already become deserted, such that anybody passing through the place would not know that just a few moments ago, people were humming like bees in that particular spot.
All the buyers, sellers and onlookers that hustle and bustle a few moments ago, had all dispersed.
With the day’s business over, dealers would take the raw products to the bakery, after which they would de-husk and tie the finished products in small leather bags or measure in bottles for sale.
“It is capable of generating foreign exchange in millions of dollars if only our government would take interest in the business and develop it to a commercial level,” that was how a civil servant, Kenneth Ugwu, captured the whole essence of cashew nut production in Obollo-Afor.
Pmnews.ng investigation revealed that India’s cashew exports amount to over $2.5 billion, while Vietnam generates as much as $3 billion every year mainly from the processed cashew nut.
This is a clear indication that Nigeria would benefit from a well-articulated strategy to promote the cashew nut production in Obollo-Afor, as well as other areas in Nigeria.
Mr. Ugwu described cashew nut business in the area as a very lucrative venture, which provides direct and indirect job opportunities to hundreds of unemployed people in the area.
“Cashew nuts as a business has really created a lot of direct and indirect employment in this part of the world.
“It has created indirect employment because a lot of people now come from different parts of the country to buy the product and distribute it to the rest of the country. Some even go as far as exporting it overseas.
“Directly, the producers who planted these trees have been feeding their families with proceeds from the trees. Some of them have even seen their children through universities just with the cashew proceeds. So, you can see what it means for the people,” he said.
Again, Ugwu’s employment generation philosophy becomes tenable when linked with a 2014 study by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which estimated that an increase of 20 percent from Nigeria’s then processing level would create more than 344,000 new jobs and additional income of over $75 million.
Pmnews.ng checks equally revealed that government and non-governmental organisations, as well as some interest groups, have been showing interest in establishing cashew nut industry in the area to boost production and create more job opportunities for the unemployed.
Although the people are yet to see any meaningful action from the government, it is their wish that the government would expeditiously look at the potentials of the business on the nation’s economy, especially as it affects employment for the youths, particularly secondary school leavers and graduates.
While the people wait for the government to establish a large-scale cashew nut industry so that processing of raw cashew nuts into finished commodities would be less stressful, some individuals are already doing their best to reduce the encumbrances associated with processing.
One of such individuals is Okechukwu Boniface from Abakaliki in Ebonyi State.
According to him, he joined the cashew nut business alongside his wife after undergoing apprenticeship in a different trade at Obollo Afor.
He said he abandoned his earlier work when he realised that the cashew nut business was flourishing and lucrative too.
He said: “Then, there was no place for the women in the business to bake the cashew nut and that made it difficult for them to process the nuts. Consequently, I decided to establish a bakery where they can bake the nuts.”
He is not only involved in baking cashew nuts, he also buys and sells.
After about five years in the business of buying and selling cashew nuts, Boniface took a bold step to establish cashew nuts bakery after considering the troubles the women encountered to process the raw cashew nuts.
With just one year tutelage and a little over N1 million, he was able to establish one, where many women flock to bake the commodity before de-husking to get the final product.
He said: “I learnt how to bake from my friend who is from Taraba State. I stayed with him for about one year before I learnt the trade very well. I hired professionals, who fixed the bakery for me. It is capital intensive; I spent over N1 million to set it up.”
On how lucrative the baking business is, he said: “Cashew nuts are packaged in black nylon leather bags, and each bag costs N100 to bake. The bakery is divided into three chambers and each chamber accommodates about four bags. So, at a go, we put about 15 bags and it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to bake.”
When our correspondent visited the bakery, tens of women were seated waiting patiently for their turns to bake the products before de-husking, after which they would tie them in small leather bags or measure them in bottles for sale.
A visit to the processing site exposed our reporter to the stark reality of the central and cardinal role the business plays in providing job opportunities to hundreds of young girls in the area.
The site is a quadrangle with about 32 lock-up shops.
Inside each shop, about five or six young girls, and sometimes middle-aged women, are busy de-husking cashew nuts, with some tying them in small leather bags or measuring them in bottles, preparatory for sale.
Apart from the people inside the shops, there are others doing the same job along the corridor. Some of the girls, investigation revealed, are still in secondary schools, while others are secondary school leavers who are waiting to gain admission into higher institutions.
They are all workers who earn their pay on a daily basis depending on the quantity of baked cashew nuts they are able to de-husk.
And for those tying them in small leather bags, their emoluments also depend on the quantity they are able to tie or measure into bottles.
Checks also revealed that the business is all-year-round. Although sources revealed that the production of cashew nuts is at its peak between February and May every year, there are still supplies of the product from June to January, making the processing aspect a continuous thing throughout the year.
According to the President, Ogechi Cashew Nut Packaging Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, Chimaroke New Park, Obollo-Afor, Mrs. Oluchi Onah, over 2000 people engage in the processing aspect of the production.
She said: “The cashew nuts business in Obollo-Afor has been thriving for some time now and there are so many people who are involved in several aspects of it.
“Some people are involved in baking, some in removing the shell and others in measuring them into sellable quantities and tying them in leather bags.
“We have more than 2000 people who are engaged in de-husking the baked nuts and tying them into small leather bags or measuring them into bottles for sale.”
She insisted that as profitable as the business appears, it could only be done in Obollo-Afor.
“It is a business that can sustain a family. It provides basic income for the family’s survival. In other words, somebody can take care of his or her family’s needs by doing the business just like any other business.
“The only difference between this particular business and others is that you can only find it here in Obollo-Afor, unlike other businesses that you can find elsewhere.
“So, if you want to engage in the business, you must come down to Obollo-Afor. People come from all over the country, especially from the major cities like Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Onitisha, Benin and Ibadan, among others, to buy the product and resell it. People also come from outside Nigeria to buy it.
“For instance, some white people come from time to time, to buy the product and take it back to their countries for sale. So, it is a thriving business,” she said.
Although Obollo-Afor appears to be the only place where the business thrives, the whole lot that is marketed there is not only produced there. Much as supplies come from Obollo-Afor, Ezimo and Amalla, all in Udenu LGA, they also get supplies from some communities in Benue and Kogi states.
“After processing it here, we supply it to people from all over the world. We measure in bottles and also in small white leather bags. Price of those in leather bags ranges from N100, N200 and up to N1000. But for the ones in bottles, the price is from N2400 here.
“A bag of an unprocessed cashew nut sells for between N70,000 and N75,000. It depends on the quantity of the bag. A 100kg bag goes for N70,000 while 120kg or 130kg goes for N75,000 or more, depending on the season. The harvest period is between February and May and that is when you can get a bag for the above prices.
“That also depends on the yield for the season. If the harvest is bumper, then the price will be moderate but if the harvest is lean, then it will be costly. However, between June and January, you can still get the product but they will be more expensive than during the harvest season which is between February and May.
“For instance, it is scarce this year because the harvest is lean and many white people came for it this year. When they come, they buy in large quantities,” Mrs. Onah said.
Checks revealed that within one week, a person could process about three or four bags depending on the number of available workers.
One person could have five or more workers. The workers are paid based on the quantity processed per day.
For instance, a person who de-husks a small plastic container, popularly called ‘painter’ is paid N300. But a person who ties 15 pieces with the white leather bag is paid N150.
However, Mrs. Onah said the business is not all rosy as it still has its own challenges. On the problems they encounter in the business, she said: “One of our major challenges is lack of packaging facilities. We don’t have a name label.
“After all the troubles of baking, de-husking, bottling and tying, those who come from the cities to buy from us would package them with a label and sell at almost double the price we sold to them.
“Secondly, we don’t have enough processing machines. Sometimes, one could spend four or more hours at the bakery waiting for one’s turn to bake but if there are enough processing machines, such man-hours won’t be wasted like that.
“Thirdly, buyers defer payment to a later date; they buy in credit. Finally, the rainy season is our albatross; the market is always very slow during the rainy season but during the dry season, it moves very well.”
Despite all the challenges, she admitted that the gains therein are worth the pains.
“It is a lucrative venture. It provides job opportunities for young girls who finished secondary school and are waiting for admissions into higher schools of learning.
“We also employ young girls who are still in secondary school during vacation and they get some money for their needs. But, it is only girls who do the job; the boys are not into it.
“So, it provides jobs to many young girls as well as widows who have no one to cater for them and their children. They stay in the business, feed their families and train their kids in school.
“It is something the government needs to promote because thousands of people depend on it for survival. So, we want the government to invest in it by providing all the necessary equipment and facilities that will make the business easy and convenient for us,” she submitted.
A secondary school leaver, Ngozi Eze, has been in the business of tying cashew nuts in small white leather bags for over eight years, providing for her needs with the money she makes from the work.
She started doing the job while she was still in secondary school.
When our correspondent met her on the job at the processing site, she gladly opened up and said: “I finished secondary school some years back but I have been in the business of tying cashew nuts in small leather bags for more than eight years.
“I started doing it while I was still in secondary school. I don’t do it every day; I only do it when I have the energy.
“If I tie 30 pieces, I get N150. On the average, I can make up to N2000 each day.
“Sometimes, I will do it throughout the seven days in a week. At some other times, I could only work for five or six days. It is a good business because it pays my bills. I don’t have to depend on any man to satisfy my financial needs. I thank God for that.”
Another woman who is into the business of tying as well as marketing the finished cashew nut is Mrs. Michael Simeon. A mother of three, she has been in the business for more than three years and it has assisted her to take care of her family.
She said: “I tie and at the same time sell. The business is very good because it generates income and keeps one very busy.
“The price per bag varies depending on the season, but right now, a small black leather bag, containing three painters, sells for N28,000.
“I buy five or four painters in a week. I have three children and the business has been able to put food on the table for us. I have been in the business for about three years now.”
ANAELE ANTHONY CHUKWUEBUKA is a blogger, the CEO, Owner and founder of “Pmnews.ng”. He graduated from Imo State University where he studied Education History.
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