Carrying a basin on her head, Josephin Akakpo returns home slowly after a day of working in her fields. Mrs. Akakpo has spent the day peeling soybeans under her cashew trees. As the sun disappears over the horizon, Mrs. Akakpo uses the last rays of light to clean the remaining bits of skin off the beans.
Mrs. Akakpo has been producing cashews for twelve years. Her one-and-a-half-hectare orchard is located in Ogoukolidè, in the Plateaux region of Togo, where she also grows cereals and legumes. This combination of crops provides Mrs. Akakpo with enough income to provide for her family, and even some food for household consumption.
She explains, “I use a portion of my earnings from selling cashew nuts to invest in my cereal fields, and I use the rest for my children’s needs, including food, school costs, and healthcare.”
Mrs. Akakpo first learned that she could make a living from cashew production in Benin, where she and her husband lived for some time.
When her husband died, Mrs. Akakpo returned to Togo and negotiated with her older brother to inherit a plot of her family’s land in order to feed her family. As a widow and mother of five, she was determined to earn a living, and from what she observed in Benin, Mrs. Akakpo knew that cashew production would be promising. Her brother agreed, and now Mrs. Akakpo owns her one-and-a-half-hectare plot.
As she grew more confident in cashew production, Mrs. Akakpo expanded her orchard from three-quarters of a hectare to what she has today, and says it’s been a real source of income for her family.
Like Mrs. Akakpo, many other women are making a living from cashews as the crop becomes increasingly popular among women in Togo.
Noélie Kao owns a cashew orchard in Tchamba, in the central region of Togo. Her one-hectare plot was an inheritance from her late husband. Typically, the land would have gone to her husband’s male relatives, but as the plot already contained cashew trees, Mrs. Kao was allowed to continue to tend to the orchard.
Thanks to the income from selling cashews, Mrs. Kao was able to buy another hectare nearby, which she used to expand the total size of her orchard. Now Mrs. Kao can harvest four 100-kilogram bags per hectare, which she sells for a total of 200,000 FCFA (about US $340).
Mrs. Kao is proud of her orchard, though the work is not always easy. She says that maintaining her cashew trees sometimes poses a major challenge. She says the work is very physically demanding, but necessary to keep the orchard healthy and free of bushfires.
She explains, “For a good yield, we must prune the trees. But as a woman, I can’t do it alone.”
She is unable to cut branches, trim the grass, and spray pesticides by herself. So each year, she takes out a loan of 40,000 CFA francs (US $68) to pay a small group of sharecroppers to help with the work.
Mrs. Kao says repaying the loan reduces her income. She explains: “Last year, I harvested four 100-kilo bags of cashew nuts from my plot. Since I had to repay the loan, I used the profits from one bag for this purpose.”
But Mrs. Kao is encouraged because cashew production is so profitable. Even after repaying the loan, she made a profit of 150,000 FCFA (US $255) last year.
To encourage more women to invest in cashew production, Togolese organizations are educating women on the benefits of having an orchard.
Mr. Patere Koudjowoudema is the secretary general of the National Federation of Cashew Growers’ Cooperatives, which represents more than 30,000 producers in Togo. Of these, 7,565 are women—about 25% of the total group.
This is a relatively low figure, but one that makes Mr. Koudjowoudema proud.
He explains: “We appreciate these women who have been able to own land and now work it. The number of female cashew nut farmers is already a quarter of the producers. This figure is not to be overlooked.”
To help more women enter cashew production, the federation helps women in remote areas where land is available for cashew orchards.
As for Mrs. Akakpo, she hopes her orchard will help make a bright future for her children in cashew production.
She says, “Thanks to the income from my cashew sales, I plan to create another orchard, which will be a legacy for my children.”
This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.
Photo: Twin cashews. Credit: Abhishek Jacob, 2009.