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Walnuts Cultivation: Goldmine for huge revenue, employment opportunities

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
09 January 2022   |   4:16 am
The walnut industry is one of the underestimated businesses in Nigeria, despite its huge potential of improving livelihoods of rural communities and improving the country’s economy.

The walnut industry is one of the underestimated businesses in Nigeria, despite its huge potential of improving livelihoods of rural communities and improving the country’s economy.

Its production in the country is particularly unique due to the extensive natural walnut forest in eastern and western states, which plays an important role in sustaining livelihoods of the local communities.

The primary use of walnuts is food. The nut is eaten as snacks just like groundnut and cashew nut. It can be eaten alone or added to a dish or food item to make walnut bread, walnut pie, walnut soup and walnut cake, among others.

There are many varieties of walnut, with different shell types – paper shell, thin shell, medium shell and hard shell. The varieties are – Lake English and Wilson, among others. Currently, there is hybrid variety, which matures fast within three to four years, while forest walnut takes about eight years to fruit and about 10 years to mature.

Walnuts are also used in the preparation of folk medicines, although little evidence has pointed towards the efficacy of such treatments. Walnuts are also used to produce beer, whiskey, paint, ink and dyes and for some other applications.

China is the world’s largest producer of this crop, accounting for about 50 per cent of the total global output. The US ranks second, accounting for nearly one-third of the global production of walnuts. The European Union, Ukraine, Chile, Turkey, and Moldova are the other top countries for walnut production.

The African walnut (king of nuts) is mostly found in Nigeria and other African countries. In the Western part of the country, it is known as Asala while the Igbos call it Ukpa and grows in all cocoa-producing states, mostly, in the southern part of Nigeria.

Walnuts contain between 63 and 70 per cent oil, more than 90 per cent of this oil contains unsaturated fatty acids and the oleic acid content ranges from 12 to 20 per cent. Phytosterols and vitamin E are also dissolved in the oil fraction and these along with oleic acid are the most positive nutritional features of walnuts.

Reports have it that most people consume it without knowing its health importance. It was gathered that eating 75 grams of walnuts a day improves the vitality, motility, and morphology of sperm in healthy men aged 21 to 35 years.

Walnut makes skin glow, as it is rich in B-vitamins and antioxidants, which prevents the skin from free radical damage thereby stopping wrinkles and ageing. It is also good for pregnant women, as it is a diet rich in fatty acids, which can reduce a baby’s chances of developing food allergies.

It is also good for people suffering from hypertension and other heart diseases, as it contains L-arginine. Research showed that walnuts can boost sperm due to the presence of healthy fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acid among others, which plays a great role in sperm development and fertility boosting in women, as well as men.

Walnuts consumption also helps in weight loss and management of sleep disorders. Walnut leaf extract is another natural antioxidant that plays a good role in regulating menstrual flow. It helps to improve proper menstrual flow and inhibit menstrual flaws experienced by several women while menstruating.

The crop is a healthy snack to help reduce the risks of type 2 diabetes, it improves brain function – it is a good source of vitamin B-6 also known as pyridoxine which helps the human brain to function properly and improves cognitive ability. It also has biotin (vitamin B7) that helps give strength to hair, reduces hair falling and improves hair growth to a certain degree.

The National President, National Walnut Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NAWAGPMAN), Dr. Austine Maduka, said though there are no figures or statistics of walnut in Nigeria, as what is obtainable is that of wild crops that are still at the local trading level, he posited that the crop can fetch Nigeria N100 billion yearly and create direct and indirect employment for over 5,000 people.

He added that if the value chain for production, handling, processing and marketing of the commodity were properly developed, the country would reap bountifully from walnut in terms of revenue and employment generation.

Maduka said: “Within and around Omo and Shasha Forest Reserves in Ogun and Osun states respectively, data obtained were analysed by means of descriptive and inferential test statistics. An estimated 30.01kg of African walnut was extracted per month between May and September each year in the forest reserves, contributing about N615, 833.30 to the rural economies of both areas. About 17.0 per cent of respondents generated income between N11, 000.00 and N20, 000.00 per month, representing up to 50.0 per cent of their monthly income during the production period.

“Forty to 50kg of nuts can be gotten per walnut tree. Imagine how many nuts you will get from 100 trees. Five pieces of walnut goes for N200 in Akwa Ibom State, can you calculate how much you will make just for just a tree, not to talk of a hectare of walnut. You keep harvesting every year once production starts. And harvest increases per year and can go on for 30 years.

“The market for walnuts is large; people are looking for where to buy walnuts in large quantities in Nigeria.”

Based on its numerous benefits and potential, experts and industry players believe that if true investment is given to the walnut industry, it can trigger industrial revolution in the country and beyond, with every community having hybrid walnut farms and processing factories that can engage millions of Nigeria in its cultivation and processing.

But to achieve this, several challenges facing the industry must be addressed forthwith, if farmers and other stakeholders will make any headway to make the crop a money-spinner for the country. The National President said for the potential of the product to become a reality, several key components need to be addressed, one of which is the legal and regulatory framework, as well as an understanding of markets and buyers.

“Some of the factors and threats affecting product availability are seasonality (64.3 per cent), destruction of parent plants (28.6 per cent), consumption of nuts by wild animals (28.6 per cent), pest and diseases infestation (7.1 per cent), and spoilage during storage (7.1 per cent). Absence of hybrid walnut seedlings poses a huge constraint for walnut farming,” he said.

To make walnut a huge foreign exchange earner for the country, Maduka said several key components, including the legal and regulatory framework, as well as understanding the global practice. “These include the use of national and international standards by local producers, the use of modern production methods, marketing and storage.

“Walnut has the answer to the economic problems of Nigeria and Africa. For example, from the over 84 million hectares arable land available in Nigeria, if five million hectares is devoted to young farmers for the production of industrial walnut, it will engage over 1,000,000 youths or more yearly.

“New members and interested individuals should contact our state Coordinators for registration as we are working with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) and Raw Material Development and Research Council to domesticate walnuts in the country.”

The National Secretary of NAWAGPMAN, Chief Ayodele Dada, said the opportunities in walnut are located in a wide variety of industries, including healthcare, wholesale trade, retail, financial services, educational services, information, enterprise management, business support, manufacturing, leisure, research and development, real estate, and hospitality.

He added that walnut could employ more than 500 workers, including field workers.

“Small businesses are expected to account for most of the future job growth in the walnut industry.”

Walnut value chain is about adding value to walnut through processing of walnut into various utility items for the purpose of maximising profit. With the right partnership with FMITI, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), RMDRI, states, corporate bodies, and other relevant agencies, an industrial revolution can be triggered. Every local council can have viable walnut farms and processing factories.

On his part, the Vice President – North West, Alhaji Bala Umar, said the FMITI must carry out immense efforts to develop and diversify the walnut industry, increase its export competitiveness, as it is perceived as an important sector of the economy and a critical source of income for farmers and many rural families.

“The transition however, requires significant capacity building and work is underway on such issues as modern agricultural practices, food safety, plant health, as well as international quality standards to ensure sustainability of agricultural trade.

“We as an association will be involved in exporting walnuts and its by-products. Our aim is to provide customers with healthy products. As Nigeria has the largest forest for mountainous, wild walnuts, we will encourage cooperatives to purchase the most modern equipment for walnut processing and packaging. Training will be very useful; so we can learn about international quality standards because we plan to enter the international market.”