The rapid development of the cashew industry in West Africa and Africa in general is a beacon of hope for the region as it demonstrates the industry’s potential to revolutionalise the agriculture sector of the continent.
Recent statistics demonstrate that the cashew crop is increasingly becoming an important cash crop in Africa hence giving the continent a renewed hope in the region’s efforts in the fight against poverty said Abdou Kolley, Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment, at a gathering of more than 350 stakeholders of the cashew industry.
It’s the 6th annual conference of the African Cashew Alliance hosted by The Gambia from 19 – 22nd September 2011 which among others seeks to discus and map out ways of maximizing the benefits and potentials of the cashew industry.
The potentials of cashew for Africa is enormous as world production hardly meets a continuously rising and highly priced demand in Europe, North America, China and India.
Gambia’s Trade Minister said every effort must be made to develop the industry supply chain as this would go a long way in lifting a significant portion of the continent’s populations out of poverty.
In effect, agriculture in general provides 25 to 35 per cent of Africa’s gross domestic products, 60 per cent of total employment and remains the main source of income for people living in the rural areas, he said.
With an increasing global demand for highly prized cashew nut, cashew production provides an alternative source of income for the farming communities by reducing their excessive dependence on a single cash crop, which makes them very vulnerable to shocks.
Also, given its seasonal nature, cashew production allows for intercropping thus providing further opportunities to farmers to diversify and increase their incomes from the same plantation. The sector also provides African economies opportunities for export diversification thereby reducing dependence on a single commodity for export.
Hon. Kolley observed that cashew processing presents a unique opportunity to address the challenge of youth unemployment since it could be highly labour intensive hence it need more people to employ at the processing stage.
He said setting up a local processing industry would also increase farm gate prices for cashew farmers and stimulate them to improve on quality and yield.
However, despite the numerous benefits of the cashew industry, there are some factors that are militating against the industry’s full potential in contribution to economic growth and development.
The main challenge facing the sector is how to enable these smallholder farmers to take advantage of the industry’s huge potentials, Kolley said.
“Cashew farmers in Africa rarely organized themselves into associations thus weakening their bargaining position with dealers, and they have little or no access to international markets,” he further added.
To fully harness the potential of the sector to spur economic growth and poverty reduction, Gambia’s Minister suggested that Africa must continue to encourage investment in values addition at all stages of cashew supply chain.
“Smallholder farmers should be adequately capacitated with proper planting, harvesting and handling techniques. They should also be provided with improved seed varieties that could lead increase yields per hectare of cashew planted,” he said, adding: “Such interventions, accompanied with efforts to organized farmers into associations, are critical if production is to be increased meaningfully.”
Of particular importance along the cashew value chain is the need for increased processing of the cashew nuts to take advantage of its untapped potential for employment generation. In effect, current data shows that less than 10% of raw cashew nuts produced in Africa undergo further processing within the continent, leaving a tremendous opportunity for poverty reduction and job creation largely untapped.
By exporting bulk of Africa’s cashew unprocessed, Africa is missing out not only on the opportunity that processed nuts offer in terms of better pricing, but also on the potential that cashew by-products offer as fuel, juice and wine.
Hon. Kolley urge the ACA to intensify the sharing of experience and promotion of good farming practices, processing, trading and investment to help overcome the challenges facing the industry.