Who wants to be a cashew farmer in Ghana?

Smallholder Farmers Edited File photo

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 Source: Ekow Quarcoo

Since the early 1960s when cashew cultivation began in Ghana it has steadily, albeit slowly, blossomed into a significant economic tree crop with a high potential of leading the non-traditional export category in foreign revenue generation.

The steady growth of the cashew sub-sector may be largely attributed to the relative stability and the conducive business environment in the country and the concerted action of private sector players; Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and some state agencies to ensure a vibrant cashew sub-sector.

Although the earliest cashew farms were started irregularly in the Central and Greater-Accra regions, over the years, the Brong-Ahafo, Northern, Upper East and West regions had established themselves as consistent cashew producers in Ghana.

In the crop’s infant years in Ghana, the lack of appropriate husbandry practices, the absence of market structures and the resultant low producer prices seriously impeded the development of cashew as an attractive cash crop. Until the early 1980s when it was identified as a major non-traditional crop in the Government’s efforts to diversify the country’s export base, cashew cultivation in Ghana had received far too little national recognition.

The efforts of expert groups like the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agro-Forestry Unit, the Forestry Commission, the Ghana Export Promotion Council, the Africa Cashew Alliance, the African Cashew Initiative (which enjoys funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), some financial institutions, a number of stakeholder NGOs and private companies have contributed immensely to the transformation of cashew farming into its present stature.

Today, Ghana’s cashew industry directly engages at least 300,000 farmers on a full time basis, along with a range of ancillary employment avenues for some 200,000 people (who work as agents, transporters, shippers etc).

The cashew crop in Ghana has grown from a meagre 4,000 metric tons per annum as recorded in 1997, to about 70,000 metric tons recorded last year and boasts of some 13 processing companies with an installed capacity of 35,000 metric tonnes per year.

With regards to export, which strategically drives the industry, cashew is estimated to have generated US$244 million for the Government from a total export of 163,000 metric tonnes in 2016 alone.

Characteristically, Ghana exports quite a larger volume of cashew than it produces, thanks, possibly, to what is perceived as her conducive business environment, which encourages inflows of considerable quantities of nuts from neigbouring countries like La Cote D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.

Although the cashew business environment in Ghana has improved tremendously in recent years following the sharp hike in demand for raw nuts in many overseas consumer markets, Ghanaian cashew farmers, for good reason, are worried and apprehensive about the future and about the sustainability of their businesses. It is important to note that in Ghana, the cashew crop is predominantly cultivated by smallholder farmers who, altogether, account for about 88 per cent of cashew farms. On the average, each of these smallholder farms ranges in size from 0.8 hectares to 3.0 hectares and the majority rely on family labour or hired labour, especially for weeding and harvesting.

In spite of all the apparent progress made in the industry, culminating in the formation of the Ghana Cashew Industry Association four years ago, the average cashew farmer in Ghana is plagued with many debilitating problems. Notable among these are the absence of adequate market information systems, the lack of agricultural extension support system for training farmers in good agricultural practices, poor and unstable pricing for the produce, the lack of affordable funding and sometimes the lack of ready and reliable markets for their produce.

As a tree crop, the cultivation of cashew is a very sophisticated operation, requiring some degree of technical expertise, especially in its grafting processes.

Farmers constantly need guidance and direction from knowledgeable extension officers to encourage them to apply the requisite crop husbandry practices to optimize yield.

In spite of the wealth of foreign revenue ploughed in annually by cashew, the fate of most smallholder farmers have dangled dangerously due to government’s usually unpredictable decisions to either ban or un-ban the export of the crop - the former action often resulting in the destabilisation or outright dipping of producer prices right from the farm gates, and subsequently affecting the income levels of farmers and the living standards of families and grower communities.

It is hoped that in the spirit of the Government’s renewed determination to diversify the country’s economy and generate adequate foreign revenue to facilitate development, the burgeoning cashew sub-sector shall be spared any artificial constrictions and be allowed to flourish naturally and freely into a true leader in the non-traditional export category.

Columnist: Ekow Quarcoo