Thursday, September 27 2012
By 2050, the area suitable for growing cashew in West Africa could virtually double as a result of global climate change, researchers said at the 7th annual conference of the African Cashew Alliance in Cotonou, Benin, in September.
Global climate change will lead to higher temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide that will make much more land in West Africa suitable for cashew cultivation, said Eric Rahn of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. The study looked specifically at Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
“The results suggest that the growing of cashew trees will become more suitable under predicted climate change in many areas of West Africa,” Rahn said. “We can’t be certain if there is a direct relationship between suitability increase and yield increase, but it is most likely the case.”
It was just one of several pieces of information that explained almost palpable excitement among the more than 530 processors, exporters, financiers, buyers and service providers who came from 34 countries to participate.
Cashew processing is expanding across Africa, creating thousands of jobs – and more factories are in the pipeline. With an expanded cultivation zone due to climate change, and continued increase in international demand, cashew in West Africa particularly is poised for continued strong growth.
In Benin alone, at least five new cashew processing factories are in the pipeline – and stakeholders from other countries reported similar development.
That expansion reinforces the importance of the African Cashew Alliance – it was founded in 2006 with the primary mandate to expand cashew processing in order to create jobs. Since then new processing has created more than 10,000 jobs alone in West Africa.
And the potential to create even more is significant – and happening. Most of Africa’s harvest is exported as raw cashew nuts to be processed elsewhere, such as Brazil, India and Vietnam. This year, however, the continent will process more than 100,000 metric tons of the crop – the most ever.
Cashew stakeholders in Côte d'Ivoire, Africa's largest producer with roughly 350,000 metric tons annually, said the country would process half of its crop by 2015, an ambitious target but an indicator of things to come.
Africa’s potential to respond to increasing international demand has put it at the center of the cashew world, experts and specialists from across the industry told participants in a variety of workshops at the conference. Efforts across the sector in Africa are capitalizing on that potential, participants learned.
The ACI, overseen by the German development agency GIZ and implemented by TechnoServe, Fair Match Support and the ACA, will begin its second phase, a three-year program, in October. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the ACI’s work, and private sector stakeholders also contribute.
Adopting best practices has helped farmers increase yields and high prices last year helped farmers increase their incomes, said Rita Weidinger of the ACI.
“They’ve started planting like crazy,” she said. “And that follows prices. Their thinking is, ‘If I get a lot, I’ll do a lot.’”
Cashew prices at the farm gate are not as good this year.
“Farmers are doing better but they’re not doing well enough,” she said. The ACI has reached about 240,000 farmers
“The amount of research on the health benefits of cashew nuts alone is about this much,” said Carol O’Neil, Professor of Nutrition at Louisiana State University, as she held her thumb and index finger close together. What researchers have learned about tree nuts in general, however, includes one powerful piece of information in some markets: people who eat tree nuts are less likely to be obese, she said.
The conference also allowed the ACA to focus on its growth. Just five years ago in Guinea Bissau – at its first conference – barely 50 stakeholders participated.
“Cashew is going to develop into something very important for Africa – and it’s notable that it was USAID’s idea to use the alliance approach,” said Stephanie Diakite, a finance and institutional organization expert based in Mali. “The ACA has shown that it works.”
Today the ACA has 176 members and many of them voted in the election for its executive committee at the conference. Georgette Taraf was elected as the ACA’s president, the first woman to hold the position.
“To be the first woman, it’s a great honor,” Taraf said as stakeholders congratulated her. She said she would continue to promote the building of national committees in each cashew-producing country and promote processing across the continent.
Koffi Yao Appiah of Cote d’Ivoire, Tola Faseru of Nigeria and Jace Rabe of Benin were also elected as new members. They join Patrick Wainaina of Kenya, Maokola Majogo of Tanzania and V. Rajkumar.
The ACA’s value was reinforced at the conference with the signing of two MOUs that will strengthen cooperation with ARECA, the cashew and cotton industry regulatory body in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa’s largest producer of cashew, and the Nigeria National Cashew Association.
“This is a very important step,” said Bamba Mamadou, the president of the board of ARECA. “Through this collaboration, we are organizing the entire cashew value chain.”
Collaboration has delivered results in access to finance. A cashew cluster financed scheme in Nigeria, innovated by African Investors Management, a USAID Trade Hub subcontractor, has helped cashew processors obtain access to millions of dollars in finance.
Stakeholders also discussed the ACA Quality and Sustainability Seal at the conference, which they said is critical to the industry’s future.
“Quality and safety are first and foremost on our list of concerns wherever we work in the world,” Magnesen of Kraft Foods said. “We simply will not compromise on it.”
The reason is simple: a food safety issue would have potentially catastrophic impacts on the entire industry. The ACA’s new seal – Tolaro Global in Benin is the first company to be certified to use it and others are in line – has broad support across the industry, stakeholders said – particularly in light of a new U.S. law that requires certification by a body accredited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“We believe the ACA seal provides a great opportunity to meet the requirements of the FDA law,” said Dan Phipps of Red River Foods in the U.S.
At a business-to-business forum at the conference, hundreds of meetings involving over 350 companies got to the heart of the matter for the cashew industry: connecting producers to buyers to service providers to financiers to experts. The ACA estimated that the deals from the meetings could easily surpass $100 million in new investment.
A new buyer at the conference – indeed, on his first trip to West Africa – said the conference had been a perfect introduction to the African industry.
“I’m amazed,” said Steven Hiler of Ralcorp Holdings in the U.S. “There are some very large investments and smaller investments being developed. It’s happening now.”