How important are cashews for Africa?

One cashew nut out of two comes from Africa, making the continent the world’s largest producer of cashew nuts today. The crop is largely produced by 1.5 million small-scale farmers. Agriculture plays a particular role in Africa. Two-thirds of Africa’s population is employed in agriculture, making it the continent’s largest employer. Most African countries today, face the challenge of making the agricultural sector sustainable and fit for the future. It is important in offering perspectives to rural populations and above all to young people, who make up more than 60% of the African population.

The production and processing of cashew nuts in Africa create such perspectives. Nicknamed the “grey gold”, cashew is increasingly becoming prominent and is seen in many countries as a “miracle weapon” because of its diverse potential. Given that, progressive climate change is forcing many farmers, especially in the Sahel region, to break new ground, the cashew tree is ideal for adapting to climate change.

Increasing periods of heat and drought in these areas make traditional mango cultivation difficult and as such the Cashew tree offers these small farmers an innovative and future-oriented alternative. The crop also offers a great potential for developing its local processing which creates numerous jobs. Additionally, Cashew as an export product offers a connection to the international market.

However, this young but promising sector is plagued with a number of challenges; Small farmers and processors are poorly organised, associations and cooperatives hardly exist or lack financial and human capacities. In addition, most countries do not or only occasionally support cashew with political initiatives, regulations and support programmes.

Governments in the producing countries are increasingly aware of the potential of the cashew sector. This led to the establishment of the Consultative International Cashew Council, CICC in Ivory Coast in 2016. For the first time, an agricultural commodity organization was founded on the initiative of African producing countries. The aim is to jointly shape and promote the sector through the exchange and provision of analysis and information. This young organization faces the challenge of proving whether it is the right political response to a promising dynamic sector.

Pooling all energies to speak with one voice about the cashew sector

On November 17, 2016, the first four member states, Benin, Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso, signed the Convention establishing the Consultative International Cashew Council, CICC. Today, the CICC has nine member countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Togo and Senegal), which together represent 42% of cashew production worldwide.

“The idea is that the major producers can speak with one voice on a global level,” said Dr. Adama Coulibaly, director of the Ivorian cashew and cotton board CCA (Conseil Coton et Anacarde), in an interview with Radio France Internationale – RFI, “When OPEC has talked about oil, no one else can say anything. This is our goal for the cashew sector, to have an organization that produces statistics, analyses the sector and mobilizes all energies to speak with one voice about the cashew sector”. The initiative to establish the CICC came from the Ivorian government. Côte d’Ivoire is now the world market leader, with a cashew production of more than 700,000 MT per year.

The CICC is similar to other existing agricultural commodity organizations. Goods produced in Africa and important for international trade were organized early on, mostly from a colonial economic perspective, and later as the result of various international commodity agreements in so-called commodity organisations. In the agricultural sector, this was related to export crops such as cocoa, coffee, cotton and rubber.

One of the oldest of these organizations is ICAC (International Cotton Advisory Committee), the International Cotton Committee, which was founded in 1939. ICAC has become an international platform for all producing countries and a reference point for statistics, information and analysis on the cotton sector. These are intergovernmental organisations, whose members are the respective producer countries and in some cases also consumer countries. Its aim is to publish information on the individual agricultural raw materials in order to promote trade.

A trade that leads to a large part from the global south to the markets of the industrialized countries. The annual conferences serve as political exchange forum. The aim of the CICC is to become such a reference and platform for the still young cashew sector. However, with the difference that the CICC is an initiative of African actors based in Côte d’Ivoire with the aim of promoting and representing this increasingly economically important raw material for Africa from Africa as well. And not like cotton (ICAC) from Washington or coffee (ICO) and cocoa (ICCO) from London.

The cashew sector has the peculiarity of being a very young sector, which only gained importance in the post-colonial era in Africa and is therefore still very little organized. The sector must now be shaped jointly and from an African perspective. In contrast to other organizations that were seen as pure information platforms when they were founded, the CICC has the claim to be more than just a forum that simplifies trade with industrialized countries.

The CICC sees itself as a political platform and pursues an interest in development policy. In the preamble to the Convention establishing the CICC, the member states recognise the potential of cashew for poverty reduction and the creation of prospects in the member states. The signatory states also welcome “the pioneering work of the technical and financial development partners in the cashew value chain and proclaim their will to embrace the achievements in order to improve them”. The aim of the CICC according to the Convention establishing it is to; promote cooperation and coordination between the Member States in all areas of the cashew value chain.

Cashew, more than just a nut

The tree which was originally introduced to combat desertification on the continent has within the last 10 years proven to possess great economic benefits for African countries. The share of African cashews already exceeds half of the global production and this trend keeps rising while Production in Southeast Asia and in Brazil continues to dwindle. Nevertheless, this increase is still far from meeting the demand for cashew nuts on the world market, which is increasing by around 6-7% annually.

Africa offers the best conditions for cashew cultivation and due to advancing climate change; the cashew tree is increasingly becoming an alternative for numerous small-scale farmers, especially in the Sahel region. For the reason that cashew creates perspectives for farmers and also for local processors, the proportion of cashew nuts processed locally is still far too low. Of 10 cashew nuts grown in Africa, only one is cracked on the continent.

Most of the production is exported as raw material to countries such as India and Vietnam in Asia where further processing into cashew kernels takes place. Cashew processing is an activity that mainly employs women and provides urgently needed income for many families. There is a lot of benefits to be derived for the producing countries if more emphasis is placed on increasing local processing or value addition.

According to estimates by the Competitive Cashew Initiative ComCashew, a regional public-private partnership project under the framework of German development Cooperation that has been promoting the cashew value chain in Africa since 2009, up to one million jobs could be created annually if all African cashew nuts (approx. 1.5 million MT) were also processed into cashew kernels in Africa.

Cashew thus offers an important social, economic and ecological potential. The governments in the producing countries are aware of this and see the promotion of the cashew sector as an opportunity to make a sustainable contribution towards the development of their countries. The establishment of the CICC can be understood as an expression of this. Since its creation, two ministerial meetings have taken place.

The second and most recent meeting was hosted by the government of Benin in Cotonou. The 3-day event was preceded by a technical expert meeting which discussed the draft constitution and rules governing the council. Additionally, the budget, organigram and general recruitment procedures for the secretariat were among the key discussion points.

In November, the third edition of the “Salon International des Equipements et Technologies de Transformation de l’Anacarde – SIETTA, will take place from 8-10 November 2018, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire alongside the annual African Cashew Alliance Conference. SIETTA is the only cashew industry fair organized in Africa by Africans and hence the most important rendezvous of the sector on the continent.

Just as last year, Ministers of Agriculture and Industry of the 9 CICC member countries will meet there for the third Council of Ministers and are expected to appoint the first Secretary General of the CICC. After two years of development and operationalization, the CICC is now on the verge of a breakthrough. The government representatives are clearly aware of the necessity and importance of the CICC. It will now become clear whether this particular African initiative can provide a framework for a still young but dynamic and promising sector in Africa.