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Togo: Processing cashews to increase value

It’s Wednesday afternoon and the employees at Cajou Espoir (Cashew Hope) are dressed in blue blouses, yellow caps, and face masks. Their backs are bent and their hands soaked in oil as they free cashew nuts from their shells. The vast processing plant is located in Blitta, a town more than 260 km north of Togo’s capital city, Lomé.

About 75% of the company’s payroll are women, including Mèba Badaro, who has worked here for five years.

She says, “My job at Cajou Espoir is essentially to shell nuts. I shell an average of 90 kilograms per day.”

Management says that hiring so many women was a deliberate choice to help local women become financially independent. They believe that when women earn their own income, their families are better taken care of.

Hyppolyte Kolany is the director of Cajou Espoir. For him, it is important for the business to contribute to the community in many ways. While an estimated 97% of Togolese cashews are exported to Europe, companies like his are keeping some of their value in the country.

He explains, “We process cashews—instead of exporting the raw nuts—to create added value. The value remains in the country in the form of wages for our employees.”

For the women who work here, these wages have an important impact on their lives and the lives of their families.

Mrs. Badaro says: “Thanks to my job at Cajou Espoir, I built my house, got electricity, and I have running water. I am able to provide for the needs of my two children, for whom I am solely responsible.”

Cashew processing begins with grading, during which staff classify the nuts according to size.

Then the nuts are heated in an oven. This weakens the shells so that, when they are removed, the nuts remain whole. This helps maintain the market value of the nut. After being heated , the nuts are shelled. This is the stage that employs most of the plant’s workforce. The shells are removed with small machines and by hand, and then taken to a drying oven.

The final stop on a cashew’s journey is the inspection workshop where employees remove poor quality nuts and leftover shells, then package the nuts for export. The majority are destined for Europe.

Cajou Espoir isn’t the only local business processing Togo’s cashews. Kossi Kakpo is a young entrepreneur whose company Agro-Focus processes the fruit of the cashew, called the cashew apple, into juice.

He explains: “The fruits are only available for four months of the year— January, February, March, and April. These are fruits that rot very quickly when ripe. You have to transport them quickly to the factory and process them in sufficient quantities to create added value and have stock for the whole year.”

The juice is sold locally at 400 FCFA ($0.70 USD) per bottle.

To support the efforts of young entrepreneurs like Mr. Kakpo, the government of Togo and various NGOs offer training in marketing, communication, good hygiene and manufacturing practices, and customer management.

Mr. Kakpo has received this training, as well as support to have his products certified for local consumption and export through the Togolese Technical Institute of Agronomic Research.

In addition to training and certification, the government of Togo also helps entrepreneurs like Mr. Kakpo to access loans through a risk sharing system called the Agricultural Financing Incentive Mechanism. Under this system, the government guarantees to repay a lending bank if an entrepreneur cannot afford to do so. Agricultural entrepreneurs struggle to receive traditional loans. Banks are wary due to the risks facing the agricultural sector, including losses due to drought and other kinds of unpredictable weather.

Despite these risks, local processing of cashews is a promising way for women, entrepreneurs, and investors to increase their income.

Mrs. Badaro agrees, “Everything I have achieved is thanks to the income from Cajou Espoir.”

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: A worker shells cashews in Cajou Espoir. Credit: Magnim Karouwe.