Cashew farmers in Tanzania went on a rampage Tuesday night, setting fire and destroying 24 buildings, including the residence of a member of parliament and other politicians, angered by a failure to receive full payment for nuts sold to a cooperative union.
The disturbances occurred in the Liwale district of the Lindi region in the southern part of the East African country.
There were no casualties, according to Lindi regional police commander, George Mwakajinga, the Daily Monitor newspaper of Uganda reported.
The Tanzania Daily News said that 19 suspects have been arrested for questioning over the incident, while police have been deployed over the region to quell any further violence. BBC reported that police fired tear gas in a local market to prevent crowds from gathering.
The Monitor reported that more than 5,000 cashew farmers have been awaiting full payment for their products since October. The co-op is said to have offered terms that were less than half the price agreed to last year.
Faith Mitambo, an MP whose property was destroyed in the chaos, told BBC that the rioters targeted lawmakers of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (Party of the Revolution) CCM party, whom they blame for pricing policies.
Cashew nuts are one of this impoverished nation’s principal cash crops – it's Africa’s fourth largest producer, behind Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau, and the ninth biggest grower in the world, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization said.
Cashew nut revenue accounts for some five percent of Tanzania’s annual gross domestic product, the Tanzania Trade Development Authority said.
The East African newspaper noted that some half million Tanzanians are engaged in small-scale cashew nut farming, particularly in the southeastern part of the country, including Lindi, where poverty is widespread.
As demand for the cashew has fallen since the global economic crisis of a few years ago, Tanzanian farmers have received ever-decreasing prices for their harvest. They're also facing increasing production from nut farmers in Vietnam, Brazil, India and West Africa.
In May, after some 85,000 tonnes of cashews were left unsold on global markets, the Tanzanian government stepped in to commence a system whereby farmers would receive payments for nuts delivered to cooperatives through an export guarantee scheme from the Bank of Tanzania.
Many farmers have been unhappy with the prices they have received under this system, however.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.