Guinea-Bissau reaps reward as world goes nuts for cashews
Sustained global demand for cashews has helped Guinea-Bissau's farmers rake in record prices, but the industry wants a crack at more revenue by processing the wonder nut at home.
Demand for cashews has risen 31 percent globally over the last decade, according to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC), driven by its popularity in Asia and cashews' image as a healthy ingredient in the West.
"I have never earned as much money as this year," said Braima Seidi, a cashew farmer who has collected enough this season to build a house, purchase a motorbike, and buy a tonne of rice for his family.
"I always managed about two-and-a-half tonnes, but as the prices were low my income was too," Seidi said, celebrating a three-tonne harvest this time.
Cashew nuts grow nestled against a fruit, and entire families in Guinea-Bissau gather during harvest season to pull them from the trees, separate the nuts and pack them into sacks destined for the capital.
The fruits are pressed and the liquid that seeps out stored to make juice or ferment a type of wine, while the pulp is dried to produce feed for livestock.
In this deeply impoverished west African nation, where 12 percent of land is dedicated to cashew production, GDP is projected to be up 5.2 percent this year, UN Special Representative to Guinea-Bissau Modibo Toure said in late August, thanks in part to the high prices.
- Foreign buyers back -
The record revenues come down to two factors: a determination by the state to correct a negative price differential with producers in neighbouring Senegal, and the re-engagement of foreign buyers in Bissau's markets.
President Jose Mario Vaz temporarily suspended the sale of the nuts in May after discovering that in Casamance, Senegal, cashews were sold for 1,000 FCFA (1.5 euros, $1.8) per kilo, while Guinea-Bissau's farmers were getting paid half of that at best.
Buyers from abroad, temporarily absent from local markets, have been welcomed back, and Indian, Chinese and Mauritanian agents have duly sent prices soaring to 1,500 FCFA per kilo.
This year the quantity exported will reach 200,000 tonnes, up a solid 6 percent from 2016, according to the National Cashew Agency (ANC).
The revenues of producers, meanwhile, are expected to soar to $70-80 million from around $40-50 million last year.
"Never in living memory have the producers' prices reached this level," Mamadu Nene Balde, a representative of the country's farming communities, said in a recent meeting with President Vaz.
- Focus on processing -
Guinea-Bissau is Africa's third-largest cashew producer after Ivory Coast and Tanzania, and Africa produces 56 percent of the world's cashew crop, according to the INC.
However, only around one percent of cashews are processed for consumption and for use in cosmetics and industry on the continent, meaning Africa is missing out on an opportunity for added revenue.
Guinea-Bissau's cashews are almost all exported raw to China, India and Vietnam for processing, with just 20,000 tonnes transformed at home, including into biscuits and grilled snacks, by a handful of family firms in the former Portuguese colony.
"Our countries export almost all of our crop to other countries, where added value is created," said Georgette Taraf, President of the African Cashew Alliance at a meeting in Bissau last year.
But "Africa has opened its eyes to the potential of the cashew" she said.
Capturing more of the processing of cashews would generate both more jobs and profits.
But the Guinea-Bissau government is already enjoying the health benefits of cashew exports on its revenues this year, with the 128 million euros raised in export taxes equal to nearly half of the entire national budget.