Cashew nuts: Nsukka’s golden nuts

Nnaemeka has a deadline to meet and would have to work throughout the night. On days like this, he ensures a bottle of cashew nut is handy. That way, he snacks healthily to enable him stay awake to get this assignment done.

Amaka’s doctor had advised her to cut down on processed foods because of the unhealthy build up of cholesterol in her blood stream.

Amazingly, he recommends she eats some servings of cashew nuts daily to enhance her heart health.

The benefits of cashew nuts to the health are numerous. The Selenium, Zinc , Phosphorus and Magnesium constituents are very vital for optimal cell function. Whether for weight loss, heart health, good sight ,or general well being, cashew nuts comes in glamorously handy.

Every part of the Cashew tree is useful- the apple is processed into jams, juices and wines; the nuts are a perfect snack, the bark has great medicinal values, the nut-liquid used as resins, the sturdy wood finds intense caress in the hands of the sculptor who transforms it to aesthetically pleasing artworks. These are just one-millionth of its basic uses.

Since the first commercial planting in Udi, Ogbe, Oji and Mbala in Eastern Nigeria, farmers have continued to exploit this high value cash crop . In January 2018, Nigeria officially became the 4th largest producers of Cashew. Farmers nationwide earned over N106billion from export alone in 2017(Source: National Cashew Association of Nigeria, NCAN).

On this cold windy morning ,with the cloud lowly rumbling we set out on a tour to Opi, Nsukka to see firsthand how these wonder nuts are processed. The journey from Enugu town to Nsukka was about 2 hours . The smooth asphalted roads made it look like mere minutes. We see vast hectares of arable land planted with Cashew trees. The cool air around here has a mild, musky, soothing fragrance.

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This cashew nut processing factory has different sections. The Shelling section, the peeling section, the cooking/roasting section and the separating section. Cashew seeds are sun-dried for few days to remove moisture and then packed into jute bags . The cooking section has a Steamer in which these cashew seeds are steamed for few minutes. This is to ensure the hard shells are removed with the barest minimal effort. The nuts are then left in an empty metallic container for roasting. We observed that shells from previously processed nuts were used to build the fire. Talk about all round use!

The roasted nuts are then taken to the shelling section, after hours of cooling, for shell removal. This is a painstaking process because this section determines the quantity of broken nuts in a batch. The more care taken, the lesser the number of broken kernels.

The peeling section is likened to the polishing section. The women here selects and peel the nuts to get the bright colours you see in your bottle of Cashew nuts!

These nuts are then selected based on size and stored differently. These processes are majorly manual but they hope to fully automate all sections in due course.

Speaking with Mr Amoke Louis, the factory owner, most of these nuts are exported outside the country-Germany, USA, Canada etc. In a month, the factory produces up to 2,000 kilograms of Cashew nuts. Nsukka accounts for over 23% of total Cashew nut production in Nigeria. Nigeria does not even produce enough for its local consumption and the gap in fulfilling export needs are huge.

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In 2018 the Enugu State Government distributed over 30,000 Cashew Seedlings to farmers to enhance production and boost state IGR. The stretch of cheap, easily accessible, fallow arable lands in Nsukka is enough incentive for investors. The Nsukka Cashew seeds are big and high-yielding-premium in the chain. There is abundance of human labour too.

So, when next you munch those crunchy cashew nuts, remember the labour that goes in and be rest assured that you are eating the best nut for your health.