Ninety percent of West Africa's cashew crop is exported raw for processing overseas. Investment in mechanisation is essential if the region is to derive more economic benefit from its produce.
In the village of Opi in southeastern Nigeria's Enugu state, dozens of villagers walk around a vast cashew plantation. The dry leaves on the ground rustle as villagers collect the highly prized nut, which grows on a large evergreen tree. They detach the nuts and pour them into baskets and sacks.
"These nuts are an important source of income for people in the community," says Ndubuisi Eleje, a local farmer.
Across much of West Africa, cashew trees represent a major cash crop, with raw cashew nut production hitting 1.5m tonnes, or over 43% of the global supply in 2018, according to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council.
Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal and Gambia are the major producers in the region, with Cote d'Ivoire alone accounting for nearly half of regional production. West Africa's total production outstrips East Africa's 470,000 tonnes, which mostly come from Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya.
But the bulk of what is produced locally, around 90%, is exported as unprocessed raw nuts to processors in India and Vietnam, before being dispatched to supermarkets in Europe and the United States. Vietnam imported around 53% of the world's raw cashew nuts and India accounted for 45% last year. The loss of added value is worth about $200m, the World Bank estimates.
This large untapped processing potential is providing new opportunities in West Africa, where large-scale international processors like Singapore's Olam International, European snack company Intersnack, Brazilian group Usibras, and Singapore's international commodity trader Valency International all have a footprint. Locally, domestic processors are emerging and expanding, including Tolaro Global (Benin), Mim Cashew (Ghana), Anatrans (Burkina Faso), Cajou Espoir (Togo), FoodPro (Nigeria), and Cajou des Savanes (Cote d'Ivoire).
With demand driven by changing consumption patterns and the increasing use of cashews as snacks and bakery and confectionery ingredients, global cashew production has increased by over 830,000 tonnes, or 5%, in the last year.
Today the industry is worth over $7bn, attracting new suppliers who want to muscle in on the market and meet growing demand. In March, Vietnamese conglomerate T&T Group JSC signed an agreement to...