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‘Grey gold’: How Ivory Coast is conquering the massive US cashew nut market

Until now, “triangular trade” has left the shelling up to workers in Vietnam and India before the nuts were shipped to the United States at an exorbitant price.The American market is worth 40% of world capacity.This year alone Ivory Coast’s cashew production capacity should increase by 100 000 tons.

From a “triangular trade” that sees its nuts
shelled in Asia before being shipped to the US, top cashew producer Ivory Coast
aims to process more of its own crop for sale in the huge American market.

Starting from the present yearly average of just 10%,
producers aim to shell half by 2025, Adama Coulibaly, director of the
Cotton-Cashew Council, told AFP.

This year alone the country’s capacity should increase by
100 000 tonnes.

But processing more nuts domestically will mean a shift away
from traditional export relationships, which currently see most raw nuts sent
to Vietnam and India.

Until now, “triangular trade” has left the
shelling up to workers there before the nuts were shipped to the United States
at “an exorbitant price”, said Losseni Kone, president of Ivory
Cashew, an American firm specialising in cashew certification and trade.

“The American market is worth 40% of world capacity,
but accounts for just 1% of imports of Ivorian nuts,” added the Maryland-based

Business prospects are promising if the country can get all
the steps worked out.

“There is no cause for concern about the cashew market
in the USA. We love it. Ivorian cashew is the best,” Association of Food
Industries (AFI) president Bob Bauer told AFP, promising the group would “help”

Safety first

After a week-long visit with a group of US businessmen to
processing plants in northern and central Ivory Coast, Ivory Cashew’s Kone
sealed a deal with the country’s Cotton-Cashew Council (CCA) to get Ivorian
nuts into US and other global markets.

The top priority is to bring local processing into line with
US and international standards on food safety.

“Certification is still vital to gain access to the
American market. Once you’re granted access to the American market you can sell
to anyone, because no other international standard matches it,” Kone said.

A first tranche of 15 processing units is to be certified
under the US Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA).

Staff will be given two weeks of training by US experts on
food import regulations and requirements.

Cotton-Cashew Council director Coulibaly believes the
country has a shot at becoming the “top producer of raw cashew nuts among
the world leaders,” and hopes that food safety improvements will allow for
“a 100% Ivory Coast certification”.

‘Grey gold’

Cashew kernels are used in cooking and cosmetics, while
resin from the shells has various industrial uses, including as a fluid for
aircraft braking systems – earning the nut its nickname of “grey gold”.

The cashew apple is also used to produce wine, liqueur,
syrup, jam and juice.

This year’s harvest should see Ivory Coast’s 250 000
producers – organised into around 20 cooperatives – sell 900 000 tonnes of
raw nuts.

Industry players credit the highest output in five years to
buyers upholding fixed prices paid to growers.

But even as production has soared, prices fell in the
coronavirus pandemic, Coulibaly said.

Higher output must be matched by local processing, he added,
“because it is in processing that there is added value.”

As a whole, Africa provides more than half of the world’s
cashew harvest but only processes 10% of it.

So producing countries “retain only a small share of
the value created as the nut travels from the farm to store,” UN trade
official Miho Shirotori said last month.

“African farmers, exporters and workers are missing out
on a wealth of opportunities,” she noted.



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