|dc.description||Some 3 million small-scale farmers in a dozen African countries grow cashew (Anacardium occidentale) for a world market that is constantly expanding (+ 6% per year). Rich in dietetic properties, the fruit of this savannah tree, known as the cashew nut, has long been sought after in industrialised countries, and has more recently become popular in China. International trade, which accounts for barely one-fifth of global output estimated at 2.3 Mt in 2005, is expected to keep on growing.
This rising demand represents an opportunity for African countries, six of which feature in the list of the world s 10 biggest cashew producers (in descending order, Nigeria, Tanzania, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and Benin). But their output is dwarfed by that of India, Brazil and most notably Vietnam, which alone accounts for almost one-third of world production. Close to Europe, with a plentiful supply of cheap labour and a quality of cashew nut that is highly prized by consumers, Africa has some distinct advantages. But so far it has failed to exploit this potential to the full. Africa exports 90% of its cashew nuts unprocessed to India, which shells them before re-exporting them, toasted or processed, to the EU and the United States. As a result, Africa misses out on the lion s share of the added value component.
A new strategy
But this circuit, set in place after the dismantling of state marketing systems, is now undergoing a marked shift. This is partly because the Indians are now more inclined to shell the nuts at the point of production, due to rising costs of oil and transport. Furthermore, new EU sanitary standards introduced in 2005 force them to pay more attention to the quality of their product to avoid losing clients. European importers do not want the risk of sanctions if a batch turns out to be dangerous to consumer health. Traceability requirements dictate that every link in the chain between the field where the cashew was grown and the very last retailer must, in the event of a problem, be able to identify the exact provenance of the product that he sold, processed or packed. The final responsibility, however, lies with the importer.
The change in strategy adopted by Indian buyers first started 2 years ago. In 2004 and 2005, Olam International, a group which markets a quarter of the world s cashew production, opened processing factories in Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria. Similar initiatives are being launched in Ghana and Guinea Bissau. In Tanzania, the same group has opened a processing plant in partnership with the US NGO Technoserve. In Mozambique, an agreement stipulates that the Indians will supply finance and technology to rebuild the industry, which ran into problems during the 1990s.
Processing in Africa
Donors and governments are now unanimous in their desire for cashew processing to be carried out in Africa, seeing it as a way of reducing poverty and creating employment. Shelling is generally done by hand, mostly by women. Since 2000, a number of in-depth studies have examined the promising African sector. National programmes offer support to small and medium-scale producers throughout the production chain. For example, Benin, which is looking to the cashew sector as a partial substitute for cotton, is starting to train its farmers. A guarantee fund helps processors obtain loans from microfinance institutions. Six small shelling units have been opened since 2003.
At regional level, Trade Expansion in Cashew Nuts from Africa, a project mainly financed by the International Trade Centre (ITC), aims to build a network of all the players in the sector so as to develop a direct export line of unprocessed and processed cashew nuts to both industrialised countries and the regional market.
Shelling in Africa does not pose any major technical problems. There are a number of small industrial processing units whose services are relatively affordable. So although it is a delicate process, shelling by hand produces good results, enabling the nut to be released unbroken from its shell, thereby ensuring the quality of the product. The technique also allows the careful collection of the precious cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL), a fluid that irritates the skin but which is used in the paint and lubricant industries.
A sector ripe for investment
Studies show that, if well managed, factories run by associations, local cooperatives and small and medium-scale private business operators can prove viable in Africa, and produce good quality cashew nuts. In the early stages, one major problem is financing stocks during the 2-month harvest period so as to keep the factories working all-year round. Grouping producers together is also vital in order to carry out marketing campaigns and increase bargaining power. New investors face competition from well-established firms which are able to call on solid networks for both supplies and marketing.
Shelling is just the first step in the processing of the cashew nut, which can go on to be toasted, salted or used to make all sorts of conserves. Other parts of the cashew are also of value. Eaten fresh, the pseudo-fruit, known as the cashew apple, is rich in vitamin C and popular with local consumers. It can also be used to make juice, wine and jams. In Ghana, a brandy made from good quality cashew apple has been developed. But so far, none of these products has been promoted on the European or regional markets, even though the latter are thought to hold particular promise.||