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March 06, 2007

Cashew processing takes off in West Africa

Afokantan Benin Cashews, West Africa’s newest cashew-processing facility and one of several recent developments in the continent’s blossoming industry, was officially opened in January. The plant, a joint venture between Kenza SA of Benin and the Netherlands’ Global Trading, will employ 300 and produce an annual 1,500 tonnes of semi-finished cashews – hugely increasing Benin’s previous processed output of only 50 tonnes a year.

“This is the pride of our country,” said Benin’s minister of industry, Issifou Soumanou about the plant, which has an on-site canteen, clinic and child-care facility. “I call upon everyone present here to help this factory succeed.”

Afokantan will ship its kernels to Europe, South Africa and the U.S., helping to change the continental trend of shipping raw cashews to India and Vietnam for processing. Africa grows one-third of the world’s cashews, but processes only 10-15 percent of them, missing out on the jobs and added value that processing would create.

Promoting the continent’s cashews is the purpose of the African Cashew Alliance (ACA), of which Afokantan is a member. Created in 2006, the ACA is attracting attention throughout the global cashew industry – and within Africa, generating discussion and activity about the future of the continent’s cashew business. It does so by facilitating new business, sharing information about successful trade strategies and promoting sales, quantities and improved standards of African cashews.

In January a government-selected delegation from Benin visited Mozambique, to learn from the latter's more established industry. One of Mozambique’s leading processors, Felipe Miranda, also attended Afokantan’s opening. Also in January, Cilia de Cock of the West Africa Trade Hub/Accra, the secretariat for the Alliance, attended the annual conference of the Peanut and Tree Nut Processors Association in Arizona, U.S., a mostly American group of “roasters and salters.” It was the first time Africa had been represented at the industry event, and many participants were keen to learn about its growing processing capability.

Much of that energy can be found in Nigeria, where de Cock visited eight processing facilities in December 2006. In January, the governor of Kwara state in Western Nigeria inaugurated a new cashew factory to be run by international commodities giant Olam. Its annual production of 5,000 tonnes boosts the country’s annual output to 16,000 tonnes for export, making Nigeria one of the leading cashew-processing countries in West Africa.

The first Nigerian ACA country-level meeting is set for July 12. ACA country-level meetings were planned for February in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, organized with partner organizations donors USAID, and SNV of the Netherlands. The meetings help identify a country’s stakeholders to discuss issues faced by the industry, such as the need to improve quality standards or find more training opportunities. Meanwhile, Ghana is planning a Cashew Week for the end of April in cooperation with the private sector and USAID.

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