Cashew apples are getting plump and starting to drop across West Africa. Despite a few anomalies – a cold spell in The Gambia, sporadic rains in Ghana – many are expecting the 2012 season to see a new record harvest, surpassing last year’s million tons of raw cashew nuts.
That quantity makes Africa the world’s leading producer – supplying almost half of the world’s cashews. West Africa accounts for roughly 85% of the harvest – about 845,000 tons.
More exciting to many is what is happening in processing across West Africa. In the last six months, three new mechanized processing factories have opened in the region, including the largest in the world in Bouake, Cote d’Ivoire, capable of processing 30,000 tons annually – and employing 2,400 people. Ghana and Nigeria are the sites of the others.
“These facilities spell one word for West Africa – jobs,” said Christian Dahm, managing director of the African Cashew Alliance. “More jobs for West Africa means less poverty. So, this is very exciting news.”
The trees seem to be responding, stakeholders said.
“Ghana could produce 25,000 tons this year,” said Winfred Osei Owusu of West African Market Links, an agribusiness company in Ghana. “Many farmers have adopted the improved techniques and those are having an impact.”
Last year, Ghana produced roughly 20,000 tons; the entire harvest was about 750,000 tons across the continent.
Increased cashew processing means thousands of jobs across West Africa.
“The weather’s been good and we haven’t heard of any major problems, I think it’s going to be a very good crop,” said Niel Hyde of Iracema, a Brazilian buyer of raw cashew nuts on the continent. Iracema bought 40,000 tons of raw cashew nuts last year from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Guinea Bissau; it will buy 50,000 tons this season, and extend its purchasing to Benin and The Gambia, he said.
Ram Mohan of ComAfrique in The Gambia said an unusual cold spell in the cashew producing region including Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea Bissau has raised concerns but few doubts that the harvest will be bountiful.
“We’re not sure what impact that will have, it was certainly unusual,” Mohan said. Temperatures dropped as low as 14 degrees centigrade, he said, but trees flowered well and the rains were great.
“Gambia’s production will increase for sure – there are more plantations producing,” Mohan said. He estimated the harvest to reach as many as 15,000 tons. Senegal will likely produce 25,000 tons and Guinea Bissau could reach 210,000 tons, he added.
Producers will likely not see the high prices they saw last year – but good prices all the same, stakeholders said.
“The international market has dropped,” Mohan said. “And speculators have held on to some nuts as this harvest begins.”
Current prices are roughly half of what they were last year. In Burkina Faso, for example, one kilogram of raw cashew nuts is fetching about 200 CFA (roughly US$0.45); a year ago, at its peak, the price was about 500 CFA, said Minata Kone of Sotria-B, a cashew processing company in Burkina Faso.
The 2012 ACA conference in The Gambia included an exhibit of cashew processing equipment.
“Buyers are being very timid so far,” she said. “There seem to be no buyers, actually. Perhaps they are waiting and there are not a lot of nuts on the market currently.”
In reality, no one expects buyers to be timid for much longer, though. Cashews remain the world’s most popular snack nut and demand is increasing across the globe.
Still, the African Cashew Alliance is monitoring the price situation closely, said its Public Relations Director, Xenia Defontaine. The ACA met with producers, traders and exporters in Cote d’Ivoire with the country’s industry regulator, Areca, which led to a minimum farmgate price of 310 CFA per kilogram (about US$0.63).
In Senegal, the ACA has assisted stakeholders in better organizing the sector, as well. An inter-professional organization in the Casamance is in the works, she noted.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Cashew Cluster Finance Scheme, a collaborative innovation led by the ACA and the USAID Trade Hub, continues to expand, with more types of credit expected to be made available to cashew processors. Financial experts from across the region have also expressed interest in replicating the approach.