Cashew (Anacardiumoccidentale) is an economic tree crop that produces apples and nuts, which grows well in areas with annual total rainfall of between 900-1,400mm and with distinctive wet and dry seasons.
A dry period of 4-6 months is required for flowering and fruit development. Cashew thrives well from sea level up to an altitude of 1,000m above sea level. Elevations above 1,000m are not suitable due to cooler temperatures which delay flowering. The optimum temperature range for cashew cultivation is between 20ºC and 34ºC while the minimum temperature should not be below 18ºC with maximum not exceeding 38ºC.
Cashew cultivation in Ghana started in the 1960’s with sporadic plantings in the Central and Greater Accra Regions and later spread to the Brong-Ahafo, Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions.Between 1970 and 1980, the industry suffered a set-back due to the absence of the needed support in terms of policies to facilitate its development as an infantagri-industry.
Issues like low producer prices, underdeveloped market structures and inadequate information regarding appropriate husbandry practices for the commodity, caused farmers enthusiasm in the crop to wane considerably and already established plantations were abandoned as they were left to the mercy of rampant bushfires and fuel wood collectors.
Fortunately, the interest in cashew cultivation was rekindled with the introduction of the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) in 1983, when cashew was identified as one of the major non-traditional crops to be developed as part of Government’s efforts to diversify the country’s export base. Commodity markets were therefore established and liberalized, thus providing the opportunity for farmers to sell the raw nuts.
Cashew farmers once again became avid of the crop and re-invested resources (money, time and labour) to rehabilitate some of the abandoned farms and also expanded their farms. As a result of which Ghana recorded its first export of 15metric tonnes (mt) of raw cashew nuts in 1991. It subsequently increased to 3,571mt in 1997, thus encouraging the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in 1998, to initiate a research study to thoroughly investigate the status of the cashew industry in Ghana.
Findings of the study revealed that cashew was being cultivated in most parts of the country, with minimal or no agricultural service support and that, there was a huge potential to increase the area under cultivation in the three agro ecological zones of the Northern Savanna (Guinea and Sudan), forest-transitional and coastal savanna in Ghana. The study also concluded that cashew production had tremendous potential in generating additional income for rural folks and therefore could Ghana with the objective of increasing the production substantially as well as processing of cashew in some identified Districts.
The commencement of the Cashew Development project (CDP) in 2002 marked the first major attempt by government to develop and co-ordinate activities in the sub-sector. Prior to this imitative, only a few isolated attempts had been made by some individuals, private companies like Cash pro, some governmental agencies like the Agro-forestry Unit of MoFA, the Forestry Commission, Ghana Export Promotion Council, Ghana National Procurement Agency and NGOs like Techno Serve, ADRA and AMEX to promote and develop the cashew industry in Ghana.
In 2010, when the project ended, it was estimated that the total land area under cashew cultivation had increased significantly from 18,000 hectares in 2000 to 70,000 hectares in 2010. Raw Cashew Nut (RCN) production had also soared from about 5,000mt in 2002 to about 29,000mt. RCN exports on the other hand multiplied from 31,335mt in 2003 to 77,391mt in 2010. contribute significantly to poverty reduction.
This stimulated the government to follow-up with a request for the African Development Bank to finance the implementation of a cashew development project for
Processing units of RCN as at that time had also shot up from 5mt in 2003 to 12mt in 2011 while volumes of kernels produced had remarkably improved from about 10mt in 2002 to 392mt in 2010. Total installed capacity of processing plants on the other hand increased from 210mt/year in 2000 to over 27,000mt in 2011.
The success story did not only manifested in production; research as well gained prominence in institutions such as the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) with the development of improved technologies to strengthen extension delivery, the establishment of cashew germ plasm plots to broaden the gene pool in the country among others.
In order to improve the marketing of RCN and strengthen the bargaining power of cashew farmers, 156 farmers’ co-operative societies, 13 farmers’ District unions and the umbrella national cashew farmers’ association were formed and registered with the Department of Co-operatives.
Two major institutions in the cashew sector: African Cashew Alliance (ACA) and African Cashew Initiative (ACi) have also since been operating in Ghana by providing varied interventions to the industry with ACA focusing on investment promotion, market linkages and exchange of information among stakeholders and ACi being more concerned with preparing farmers for specialty markets, training on good agricultural practices, quality and food safety standards.
The cashew business environment in Ghana has really improved tremendously in recent years with demand for raw nuts by many countries around the globe increasing a sprint pace. This has created ready markets and improvements in farm-gate prices. The development has given birth to numerous functional farmer associations, processing plants and traders linked to the industry.
Currently, there are about 13installed cashew processing plantsin the country. Of the number,12 of them are situated in the Brong Ahafo Region-hub of cashew production. Recently, Pinora Limited, fruit juice processing company at Asamankese in the Eastern Region has also established a subsidiary plant at Koase near Wenchi. The plant has started collecting the cashew apples for processing which hitherto wereof no economic value to the farmers.
All these entities have triggered more job opportunities along the entire value-chain, thereby reducing poverty, particularly in cashew growing communities as well as enhancing the country’s earnings from the cashew industry. In 2013, it was estimated that cashew generated about US$170 million in the form of foreign exchange earnings, making it the second largest contributor to the non-traditional export crops.
Despite the positive indicators, there is plethora of challenges staring at the development of the industry. The current level of production hovering around 50,000mt in the country is insufficient to meet the installed processing capacity close to 70,000mt and not to even talk of the large quantum that traders export. Previously, processors and exporters used to easily get supplements from La Cote d’Iviore through the borders but the Ivorian government has banned the inland trade of the commodity, causing hard times for the industry in Ghana.
Cashew farmers have been worried about their inability to access competitive credit to boost production and the annual bushfire menace which continues to wreck cashew plantations. Processors also have identified the current system of lending rate to agro-processing banks business unfriendly;skyrocketing utility tariffs;expensive labour cost and swelling import duties on machinery as some of the issues kicking them out of business.
These and many challenges necessitated the formation of the Ghana Cashew Industry Association, an apex cashew supply chain body to among other things promote the interest of actors in the industry. The Association is made up of farmers, processors, traders and service providers. The Association made headway by organising the first Ghana Cashew Season launch in March 2014 at Wenchi.
The event which focused on “Harnessing the Economic and Climatic Benefits of Cashew, the Strategic Non-traditional Commodity,”brought together all the key players of the cashew industry to brainstorm on the prospects, potentials and challenges of the industry.
The impact of cashew production on the socio-economic development of the country particularly around the middle belt is enormous.Countries like India, Brazil and Vietnam are reaping massively from cashew, and it has therefore become imperative for duty-bearers and those in authority to give prominence to the crop in order to fortify the country’s economic fortunes from it [cashew].