FOR SUCCESSFUL CASHEW
The cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale L., belongs to the Anacardiaceae family of plants,
which also includes the mango, the pistachio and the poison ivy. The tree is a native of Brazil,
but it has spread to other parts of tropical South and Central America, Mexico and the West
Indies. In the 1600s, Portuguese traders introduced the cashew tree into India and Africa to
prevent soil erosion. It is now widely cultivated for its nuts and other products in the coastal
regions of South Africa, Madagascar and Tanzania, and in South Asia, from Sri Lanka to the
The cashew tree is a tropical evergreen, resistant to drought, which grows up to 12 metres
high and has a symmetrical spread of up to approximately 25 metres. It grows with a
minimum of attention and is easily cultivated. It is usually found from sea level to an altitude
of 1000 metres, in regions with annual rainfall as low as 500 mm and as high as 3750 mm.
For maximum productivity, good soil and adequate moisture are essential. Optimum
conditions include an annual rainfall of at least 889 mm and not more than 3048 mm. The
tree has an extensive root system, which helps it tolerate a wide range of moisture levels and
soil types, but commercial production is only advisable in well-drained, sandy loam or red
soils. The cashew tree can flourish in the sand of open beaches, but it grows poorly in heavy
clay or limestone.
Most cashew trees start bearing fruit in the third or fourth year, and are likely to reach their
mature yield by the seventh year if the conditions are favourable. The average yield of nuts of
a mature tree is in the range of 7-11 kg per annum. Although the cashew tree is capable of
living for 50-60 years, most trees produce nuts for about 15-20 years.
The cashew tree is usually grown from seeds placed directly in the field because seedlings do
not transplant well due to their delicate root system. Seed nuts should be thoroughly dry,
clean and free from insect or fungal attack. Unless there are irrigation facilities, or seedlings
are raised in polythene bags in a nursery where water is available, the seeds should be stored
until the next rainy season before they are planted in the field. After a few months, stored
nuts gradually lose their germination capacity.
Seeds should be water tested prior to planting - those that sink should be chosen as they
have a high success rate and tend to germinate quickly. Seeds should be planted at a depth
of about 5 cm. The maximum depth at which a seed should be sown is about 10 cm,
depending on the soil conditions.
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