Senegal: Making cashews pay (IRIN)

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Ismaila Diémé is a cashew farmer in the Casamance region of Senegal. Like all cashew farmers, he harvests his crop once per year. Then he tries to get the best price possible. His economic security depends on this sale.

Mr. Diémé harvested seven tonnes of cashews in 2011. He says: “Logically, the revenue generated by the sale of these nuts should have got me through the whole year, but the poor price meant that I won’t get by. All the growers in the region are in the same situation.”

This year, cashew farmers in Casamance are working together in an attempt to have more influence on the price of their product. Mr. Diémé says, “We are organizing − we think we can solve this problem.”

Cashews are Casamance’s top export and the economic mainstay of the region. Only tourism brings in more money. But despite the value of cashew production, farmers struggle to get by.

Middlemen − mostly from India − purchase raw cashew nuts for export. They usually walk off with the bulk of the profit. Ndecky Francis is a spokesperson for producers in the Adeane district of Casamance. He explains the dilemma that farmers face at harvest time: “Our cashews will rot in our hands if we do not accept the price the middleman gives us … We are forced to sell off our crops, whatever the price, because we have our families to feed, and care and education of our children to pay for.”

Mamadou Dabo is a value and quality chain analyst at USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. He is urging farmers to negotiate a mutually beneficial contract with exporters before the harvest. By working together, farmers can exercise more leverage in contract negotiations.

The Chamber of Commerce in Ziguinchor, the capital of the Casamance region, is working with the producers. With help from the French Development Agency, they are helping cashew producers become better organized, and are trying to set up a fund to buy cashews for resale to exporters and local processers.

Another way for farmers to get more value from their cashews is to process the nuts, rather than selling them raw. Processing involves separating the fruit and the kernel, and then drying the nuts. Processed nuts attract much higher prices. Currently, some 95 per cent of Casamance’s cashews are exported raw.

There are just a few co-operatives process nuts by hand in Senegal. These include a women’s co-operative in Thiès, 60 kilometres from Dakar, and a group in Sokone, near the coast. According to the African Cashew Alliance, industrial-scale processing would mean more jobs and higher prices for producers.

Individual producers are starting to speak out for decent prices. Mr. Diémé plans to sell his cashews for no less than 500 CFA (about 92 US cents) per kilogram in 2013 – the higher end of this year’s going rate. He argues, “Otherwise I’ll just have to continue to give my produce away while others profit from my hard labour.”