Nigeria needs to increase its cashew nut processing capacity and export less of the raw commodity to other countries, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) said last week.

The organization's chief executive officer, Segun Awolowo, said that cashew exports from Nigeria generated N17.7 billion ($108 million) in 2013, accounting for about 10 percent of the country's agricultural exports. Yet this is just a fraction of the revenue generated by other countries that have more capacity to add value to the raw product, and go on to export it to markets in the European Union, the United States and the Middle East.

India's cashew exports amount to over $2.5 billion and Vietnam generates as much as $3 billion each year, mainly from processed kernel. This illustrates that Nigeria would benefit from a well-articulated strategy to grow the cashew sector and harness the opportunities in the market, Awolowo said.

"Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of raw cashew nut in the world, producing about 120,000 metric tons yearly. Cashew is produced in almost all the states in Nigeria as the crop survives all ecological zones. Out of Nigeria's annual production figure, only about 50 percent are exported as raw cashew nut while about 20 percent are processed into kernel, leaving about 30 percent wasted as a result of insufficient processing capacity," he stated.

"Not adding value locally results in loss of foreign exchange and exportation of jobs," the CEO pointed out.

Awolowo cited a recent study by USAID which estimated that an increase of 20 percent from Nigeria's current processing level would create more than 344,000 new jobs and additional income of over $75 million.

NEPC has established a cashew mini-processing factory at Obollo-Afor in Eungu State which is predicted to bring in up to N2 billion ($12 billion) of foreign exchange for the country every year.

Awolowo said that the successful pilot scheme could be replicated by potential investors in other cashew-producing states, and some investors have already approached the council for possible collaboration to invest in cashew processing.