DAKAR, Senegal — In 2002, Senegal’s raw cashew nuts were mostly exported for low prices. The cashews were processed abroad into a high-quality gourmet food item. Local markets in Senegal sold only charred and broken cashew kernels processed the traditional way.
But now middle-class consumers in Dakar can buy export-quality cashews grown and processed domestically, and local processors are earning the higher profits that come from producing unbroken quality nuts.
Cashew nuts have long been grown in the fertile soil of the Casamance region in southern Senegal, but the industry involved little investment or labor and produced insignificant profits.
EnterpriseWorks Worldwide came into the region in 2001 with a USAID-funded program to develop a modern cashew processing industry as part of the mission’s wider effort to rebuilt the economy of the war-torn region. (See July /August issue of FrontLines for more on peace-building in Casamance.)
Senegal is now processing some 80 tons of cashews annually, with the potential to increase up to 5,000 tons.
“It’s a brand new industry that still needs a lot of development,” said Steve Lynn, director of the cashew program. “But the big change is that the industry exists today, and it didn’t before.”
Cashews – like coffee beans and cocoa – is a luxury crop that grows abundantly in Africa, but tends to be exported raw, for less profit, rather than being processed and exported with a higher price tag. Raw cashews bring about 50 cents per kilogram on the international market, whereas processed nuts or “kernels” bring between $3.85 and $5 per kilo.
Senegal’s cashew processing industry has already made inroads into the domestic market in Dakar and is spreading to Banjul, capital of The Gambia.
As production increases, Senegal is eventually expected to begin exporting cashews to European and North American markets.
“The challenge is that we’ve started at the baseline of zero, where nobody know how to process cashews for export, “said Lynn. “But the business has now become developed.
“We are accompanying young businesses, not only through learning to process cashews, but to become professional, commercial entities dealing with marketing, learning about delivering supplies of significant quantities, and honoring the terms of a set deal. There is a lot of management training that goes along with technical training and a lot to do with marketing.”
Processing cashew nuts is not easy. Without adequate training for workers, machines break a high percentage of the curved, outer shells of the cashew nut, reducing the finished product’s value. So the most labor-intensive and time-consuming part of processing is removing the cashew kernel from its shell by hand.
Most processing plants are still small: they employ only 10-20 people, mainly women and younger workers. The new and growing industry hopes to attract investors, who will start larger processing plants.
“The field is wide open and offers good potential for profits, job creation, and income generation on a commodity that Senegal already produces,” Lynn said.
Source: USAID FrontLines, November 2003.