The 'Grey Gold'
The Cashew Council is the first international organisation for a raw material stemming from Africa. The industry promises to make progress in processing and refining cashew nuts - and answers to climate change
50 percent of all cashew nuts come from Africa, making the continent the largest producer of cashew nuts worldwide. The majority of this harvest is produced by 1.5 million smallholders. Cashews play an increasingly important economic role in the countries producing them. In 2016, this growing importance resulted in the founding of the Consultative International Cashew Council (CICC) in the Ivory Coast. For the first time, an organisation for agricultural commodities was established at the initiative of African production countries.
Agriculture plays a very special role in Africa. Two thirds of the African population work in this sector, making it the largest employer on the continent. Most African countries face the challenge of trying to establish a sustainable and forward-looking agricultural sector. The rural population and especially the youth, which makes up just under 60 percent, needs prospective outlook.
The cultivation and processing of cashew nuts opens up these types of avenues. Cashews, also called ‘grey gold’, are considered a ‘miracle weapon’ in many countries, since they are very promising. Cashew trees are ideal for adapting to climate change. The progressive climate change is forcing many farmers, especially in the Sahel region, to try new things. Periods of increased temperature and dryness in these areas, for example, make traditional mango cultivation difficult. Cashew trees offer these smallholders an innovative and future-oriented alternative. Another great potential lies in local processing, which creates numerous jobs. Last but not least, as an export product cashews facilitate a connection to the international market.
However, the cashew sector also faces numerous challenges. Smallholders of cashew nuts are usually poorly organised, associations and cooperatives hardly exist, and there is a lack of financial and human capacities. Furthermore, most countries do not (or only sporadically) support cashews with political initiatives, regulations and funding programmes.
Nevertheless, governments in production countries are becoming increasingly aware of the potential of the cashew sector. This led to the founding of the Consultative International Cashew Council (CICC) in Ivory Coast in November 2016. It aims to promote the sector by sharing and providing analytical tools and information. The fledgling organisation now has to prove that it has the right response for a promising dynamic sector.
Bundling all energies to act as one in representing the cashew sector
On 17 November 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 jointly represent 42 percent of the global cashew production.
‘The idea is that the big producers can act as one on a global scale,’ says Dr Adama Coulibaly, director of the Ivorian cashew and cotton regulator CCA (Conseil Coton et Anacarde), in an interview with RFI, Radio France Internationale. ‘When OPEC talks about oil, nobody can really go against it. This is our goal for the cashew sector: to have an organisation that produces statistics, analyses the sector and pools all energies.’ The initiative to establish the CICC goes back to the Ivorian government. Today, Ivory Coast is the global market leader with a cashew production of more than 700,000 tonnes annually.
The CICC is similar to other existing agricultural commodity organisations. Goods produced in Africa that are important for international trade were combined early-on in so-called ‘commodity organisations’, mostly from a colonial-economic perspective and later as a result of various international commodity agreements. In the agricultural sector, this included export goods such as cocoa, coffee, cotton or rubber. One of the oldest organisations like this is ICAC (International Cotton Advisory Committee), which was founded in Washington in 1939. ICAC became an international platform for all production countries and a reference point for statistics, information and analysis for the cotton sector. These are intergovernmental organisations whose members are the respective production countries and sometimes also consumer countries.
Their goal is the publication of information on the individual agricultural commodities to promote trade. A trade that for the most part leads from the global south to the markets of the industrialised nations. The annual conferences serve as political exchange forums. The CICC also wants to become a reference and platform for the still early cashew sector. One major difference is that the CICC is an initiative of African players, based in Ivory Coast, with the aim to promote and represent this increasingly important resource straight from Africa unlike cotton (ICAC) from Washington or coffee (ICO) and cocoa (ICCO) from London.
The cashew sector has the distinctive feature of being a relatively young sector that has only gained importance in recent decades. The sector now has to be structured jointly and from an African perspective. In contrast to other organisations that were set up as mere information platforms, the CICC is more than just a forum that simplifies trade with developed countries by publishing sectoral data and analysis. The CICC considers itself to be a political platform and also pursues a development policy interest. In the preamble to the convention establishing the CICC, the member states recognise the potential that cashews have in the fight against poverty and for the creation of prospects in the member states. Furthermore, the signatory states ‘welcome the pioneering work of technical and financial development partners in the cashew value chain and announce their willingness to take ownership of the achievements in order to improve them’. According to the convention, the goal of the CICC is to promote cooperation and coordination between member states in all areas of the cashew value chain.
The cashew, more than just a nut
The potential of the cashew tree is of great importance to African countries. Originally, the tree was planted extensively to combat desertification. The African share of today’s global cashew production already exceeds half of the global production and this trend is increasing. Currently, cashew production is not increasing in any other growing region, neither in Southeast Asia nor Brazil. This increase is nowhere near the demand for cashew nuts on the world market, which is growing at an annual rate of approximately 6 to 7 per cent. Africa offers the best conditions for growing cashews, and as climate change progresses, the cashew tree, which strives in a dry climate, is increasingly becoming an alternative for many smallholders, especially in the Sahel zone. Because cashews create potential for farmers involved in cultivation, but also and especially in local processing. The proportion of locally processed cashew nuts is still far too low. Only one out of 10 cashew nuts grown in Africa is actually cracked on the continent. Most of the production is exported as raw material to Asia. The refinement into edible cashews takes place in countries such as India and Vietnam because processing in Africa is still not profitable enough in most cases.
This is partly due to lack of infrastructure, lack of investment and fluctuating prices. Governments in production countries are trying to create political and economic incentives to strengthen local processing because this is an occupation that primarily employs women and represents much-needed income for many families. There is huge potential for production countries to increase local processing. According to the competitive cashew initiative ‘ComCashew’, a regional GIZ project that has been promoting the cashew value chain in Africa since 2009, up to one million jobs could be created each year if all African cashew nuts (around 1.5 million tonnes) were processed into cashew kernels in Africa.
Cashews thus offer important social, economic and ecological potential. Governments in production countries are aware of this and see the promotion of the cashew sector as an opportunity to make a long-term contribution to the development of their countries. The founding of the CICC can be understood as an expression of this opportunity.
The organisation is still in its infancy. Since its inception, a ministerial meeting has taken place and the 9 Ministers that were present agreed on an operationalisation plan. Now it is important to implement this plan. Next November, the SIETTA fair will be held in Abidjan for the third time (‘Salon International des Equipements et Technologies de l'Anacarde’), the only cashew industry fair in Africa and thus the most important meeting point for this sector in the entire continent. Same as in the previous year, the agriculture and industry ministers of the nine CICC member countries will meet for the next Council of Ministers and most likely appoint the first Secretary General of the CICC. After a two-year formation and operationalisation phase, the CICC is finally about to make a breakthrough. Government officials are well aware of the necessity and importance of the CICC. It now remains to be seen if this particular African initiative can provide the framework for a still young but dynamic and promising sector in Africa. The 1.5 million smallholders who make up this dynamic range certainly have the highest expectations.