By: Brian Hilton
Published: 1999-03-19

In the last issue Brian Hilton shared his experience with cashew trees in Mozambique. For this issue we asked Brian to expand on some of the issues raised there. Then we follow with a letter that Ian Wallace in Guinea-Bissau wrote us seven years ago about some of the problems with the cashew work there. It confirms some of the warnings that Brian raised in the last issue.

Interview with Brian Hilton, Mozambique.

Editor: You said you would not recommend planting cashew in an area where there was no processing industry. What is involved in starting a processing plant?

Brian Hilton: There are basically two types of processing systems for export quality kernels. The first are large mechanized factories employing several hundred people. These systems require a very expensive capital input, huge warehouse space and are strictly for large investors.

There are also several types of mini-processing factories which cost US $25,000-$50,000. These factories process 500-1,500 kg (500-1,500 lbs) of raw nuts per day. The minifactories employ more people (25-200 people depending on the factory) per ton of processed cashew than the highly mechanized factories. Because humans are better at separating the nut from the shell than machines, kernel breakage is less with the mini-factories and they can be quite profitable. Several companies make the mini-plants including Pierce in Brazil and Chirag in India, and there is even a small engineering firm in South Africa. Obviously even these mini-factories are not for the small investor.

One of the biggest costs is stockpiling cashew to keep the mini-factories going. The cashew-harvesting season is only about two months long. So if you want to keep the plant going for 200 days per year, the smallest plants would require a stock of about 100 tons of raw cashews.

For quality seed it is important to remove the poisonous liquid in the hull. This is usually done by a hot oil bath or drum roasting.

Editor: What is involved in marketing cashews?

Brian: I’ve never done the marketing of the processed nuts, but owners of cashew plants say it is not difficult. Buyers exist in South Africa, Europe and the USA. You also need to deal with export licenses, taxes, foreign currency exchange, etc.

Editor: You mentioned that farmers might want to create marketing associations so they could sell in quantity and negotiate a better price. What has been your experience with these?

Brian: Associations can be an effective way of obtaining higher prices. It is a very costly and laborious process for buyers to buy small quantities of cashew from individual farmers. By pooling their cashew harvest together and selling in bulk, farmers can get a higher price. Such associations usually have a quality control officer to do some elementary quality control. This can save buyers additional expenses at the factory. We are working to get buyers to recognize the savings and to pay a further premium to the farmers’ groups who ensure quality cashews.

Editor: You mentioned that farmers were encouraged to prune lower branches to help control powdery mildew. How does that help?

Brian: Powdery mildew likes cool, humid conditions and succulent growth. It does not tolerate high temperatures or high ultraviolet light concentrations. So pruning lower branches to let in more sunlight seems to be helpful. Powdery mildew can reproduce in 48 hours, releasing millions of spores into the atmosphere. One farmer alone will not significantly reduce the inoculum in the air by pruning. But it has been proven that many farmers pruning in adjacent areas can significantly delay the initiation of the disease. Those not living on the East African coast may not have to do this since powdery mildew is generally not a problem elsewhere.

Editor: Is the fruit a valuable commodity?

Brian: In some countries, like Brazil, cashew “apples” enjoy a ready fruit market. [Editor: It is such a popular drink in Brazil that it is available as a canned beverage.] In Africa cashew apples are used locally as fresh fruit, or used in jam or alcohol production. But it is highly perishable and its use is severely limited. In Tanzania the smell of rotting cashew apples is a common odor in the village during cashew harvest season.

End of Interview

Letter written in 1992 by Ian Wallace in Guinea-Bissau.

“Vast areas of virgin bush have been cleared and planted with cashew trees in the past 10 years. Certainly the crop has not fulfilled all that was expected of it. Perhaps the expectations were too high, or too little care was given. The initial stages of raising the trees is so straightforward that there is a tendency for people to sit and wait for the tree to “do its stuff,” with many orchards remaining uncleaned.

“The crop is unreliable and very little is processed locally. That which is processed locally is of poor quality. The majority of the nuts are exchanged by the government for rice and then shipped raw to foreign processing centers. The true value of the crops remains unrealized since much of the profit is only added after processing. We have also seen a disastrous fall in rice production because it is easier to collect cashew nuts and exchange them for imported rice than it is to work the rice fields. This is obviously a fault of the exchange policy, but it is difficult to see how else the farmers could see value for their cashew nuts as there is no other market and the government has no other means of paying.

"It is indeed a labor intensive crop. Harvest time involves an army of workers, many of whom are children from the age of six years on up who are taken out of school for that purpose. It is rare to see men involved in the harvest.

"Cashew has greatly aggravated another social problem - drunkenness. The squeezed fruit juice ferments quickly, without the need for people to do anything, making a strong alcoholic drink in days. The cashew wine is available in far greater quantities than palm wine. Cashew season sees a marked increase in drunkenness.”