A MakanDay survey has found farmers in Eastern province got little help from the cashew nut project, part of government’s US$ 32.8 million World Bank-backed Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Project (ZIFLP), set up to help smallholder farmers to escape poverty, writes Linda Soko Tembo

Launching the project in Chasefu district of Eastern Province in June this year, former President Edgar Lungu said, “the project is aimed at boosting crop diversification and changing the mindset of many local farmers, to grow different types of crops”.

But MakanDay has established that a large multinational company profiteered more from the project than the farmers themselves.

ETG’s role questioned

Meanwhile, Eastern Province Cashew Growers Association of Zambia (EPCGAZ) questioned the role of Export Trading Group - ETG in the project. Provincial coordinator Alison Phiri has accused government of deceit after engaging ETG to provide seed and technical services.

Phiri told Makanday that his association has worked in the province for almost ten years and helped form 71 cooperatives in 14 districts in Eastern Province with a membership of more than 15,000 farmers. He said his association was also advised to inform its members to write project proposals for submission to ZIFLP – the project implementers.

“At the time we were called to the PACO (Provincial Agriculture Coordinator)’s office the people present were the coordinator for ZIFLP Dr Tasila Banda, Provincial planner Mr Muchimba and ourselves we were told our request was not granted,” Phiri revealed.

He further disclosed that his members suffered a collective loss of more than K70,000 after opening bank accounts which have remained dormant.

Zambia office ETG director, Rajendran Ganapathi referred all queries to the Empowering Farmers Foundation Community (EFF), the project implementers. According to company website, EFF is a non-profit wing of ETG established in 2013.

EFF Engagement Officer Kennedy Nyambi told MakanDay that his organisation won a tender to supply cashew nut seedlings and provide technical services to farmers through a transparent process.

“EFF was selected after competing with other organisations by the provincial project implementing unit of Eastern Province, which is headed by the Permanent Secretary, after a series of interviews, and finally around July and August, EFF was picked as an organisation that was capable of implementing that project under the Ministry of Agriculture,” he explained.

But Phiri from the farmer association said his organisation was unfairly treated.

“The people who are sitting on the same board to select the technical service provider are the same people who were advising us what to do that is where our problem was,” he said. "We did not apply because we did not even see the advert."

Export Trading Group subsidiary company – EFF (in some places called ETG Farmer Foundation), was also awarded a contract worth US$11 million from the African Development Bank (ADB) cashew nut funded project in Western Province. Nyambi did not want to answer questions about the link between ETG and EFF in Zambia.

“The link is there but me I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“You see, as a foundation we’re not only in Zambia, we’re also in Tanzania where this cashew is well developed… and with the background from Tanzania and with our connections with ETG in Tanzania, who are also somehow into cashew there, we found it easy to apply for this tender to develop cashew as a value chain,” he added.

Nyambi said so far, his orginisation has reached out to over 13,000 farmers and over one million seedlings were given out to farmers in seven districts in the province. He said the ministry of agriculture already had registered farmers when his company was engaged.

Cry from the farmers

MakanDay reporter who traveled to Petauke and Sinda districts met a group of farmers who narrated their concerns about the project. Some of the farmers are members of the Eastern Province cashew growers association.  

Green Zulu, a farmer in Sinda district told MakanDay that he received the cashew plants from ETG, but they dried up due to lack of water and extension service support. He said from the time he received the cashew plants in February this year, no officer from either government or ETG has inspected his crop.

“I was very hopeful that once the project starts like we had been promised, we would manage to take our children and grandchildren to school,” said Zulu, a father of 24. “It’s unfortunate that things did not happen the way our association promised after ETG took the show and gave us the plants”.

Christopher Mwale, another farmer who is also coordinator of the association in Petauke district, explained that ETG had given him 140 plants but that only six are still alive. The rest have dried up.

Mwale said at the time the plants were being distributed there was disorderliness and even those who did not qualify received the tree nurseries. This led to some farmers planting the trees within their living quarters.

Government mum on the issue

The Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Project National Project Manager, Tasila Tembo asked for more time to respond to the query as she is currently on leave.

Acting provincial Permanent Secretary, Royd Tembo advised MakanDay to speak to ZIFLP before he can respond to the questions about the project.

Farmers protest

On 4th December last year, dissatisfied farmers stormed the provincial office in Chipata to express their displeasure with the way the project is managed. They accused government of diverting the funds they applied for through ZIFLP to a foreign entity. However, the project has gone ahead, and the farmers protests have been ignored.

Cashew, one of the high-value crops in the world is not an entirely new crop in Zambia. It was first introduced in Western Province in the 1940s. However, growth of the industry was very slow due to low production and inadequate marketing and lack of processing facilities until in 1985 when government commercialised cashew production and processing by establishing the Zambia Cashew Company.

As part of the IMF and World Bank supported Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in the 90s, the processing plant was included on the list of companies that were privatised. The government’s action led to closure of the company and decline of the cashew industry in Zambia.

When the Patriotic Front (PF) party formed government in 2011, they included cashew production as part of economic diversification and as a poverty reduction strategy in selected parts of the country. In Western Province, government acquired a US$55.42 million loan from the World Bank and African Development Bank to revive the industry.