Accra — Cashew is attracting increasing attention as an export crop in several countries in the developing world especially in Africa, Asia and South America. The importance of cashew in Ghana's agricultural diversification programme has long been realised and the potential areas of production have been identified through several isolated studies of the sector.
The major economic products from the crop are the nuts and more recently, the cashew apple used for the manufacture of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, jams and animal feed. There has been research on the potential for the use of the cashew nut shell liquid as medicine for the control of diseases and as a wood preservative. The gum from the cashew tree is also a substitute for gum arabic.
Cashew, a native of Brazil is a major crop for the tropics. It is a hardy crop, which does well in areas considered relatively dry and marginal for many economic crops. The crop also requires minimal care and skills from the farmer.
Sporadic plantings were made in the Central and Eastern regions in Ghana in the early 1960's. This was followed by more sizeable plantings in the Brong Ahafo, Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions. The recent recognition of the crop as a major export crop for the savannah zones of the country has sparked off the rapid establishment of commercial holdings in the Northern, Upper West, Brong Ahafo and Central regions which has created a high demand for cashew seeds.
Until recently, the development of the cashew industry was seriously hampered by the lack of an organised market. But with the establishment of the export trade for cashew in Ghana and the large orders coming in (estimated at about 10,000 metric tonnes and valued over $6.5 million), it has become increasingly important to promote cashew as a priority cash crop.
Cashew is hardy and drought resistant, and can grow better in areas with rainfall between 500mm and 1,500mm per year. Considering the rainfall requirement alone, cashew could be grown in the greater part of Ghana except in the rainforests of Western, Ashanti, Eastern, Central and Volta Regions. However, other factors such as soils and level of the water table have great bearing on the choice of suitable locations.
Cashew can grow in most parts of Ghana. But it does better in the Coastal Savannah belt in the Central, Greater Accra, Eastern and Volta regions; the transitional savannah belt north of Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Eastern and Volta regions, parts of Northern Region and the entire regions of Upper West and Upper East.
About 90% of the cashew nut exports currently emanate from the Brong Ahafo Region, mainly in the Jaman and Wenchi districts where cashew cultivation is a major preoccupation.
An estimated total of 25,184 acres (10,493 hectares) of cashew was put under cultivation nationwide by 1997, of which some 5,300 acres were yielding about 900 metric tonnes. It is estimated that over 2,600 metric tonnes out of the 3,572 metric tonnes of raw cashew nuts export for 1997 came in from neighbouring countries.
The acreage under cultivation across the country increased tremendously between 1995 - 1998 when TechnoServe, in collaboration with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), imported about 18,989 kilogrammes of seed in a joint effort with the Ghana Export Promotion Council (GEPC). The two bodies assisted farmers to produce another 9,100 kilogrammes of local seed for distribution to farmers. This intervention alone will increase the areas planted from 1,905 acres in 1995 to over 32,000 acres of fruiting cashews after four years. However, if this seed programme continues, the areas under cultivation should reach 54,718 acres in four years and increase to 161,598 acres in ten years to produce 67,641 metric tonnes of raw nuts that is valued at $43.97 million annually.
Available suitable land for cashew cultivation in Ghana is estimated at over 8 million acres with the greatest proportions in Northern Region (2.9 million acres) and Brong Ahafo (2.4 million acres).
The commercial cultivation of cashew is a recent development that saw new entrants like Somoh Plantations (Akramamang, Greater Accra), Mim Farms (Brong Ahafo Region) that has developed Cashew Brandy, Carlos Farms (Northern Region), and Ejura Farms (Ashanti Region).
It is projected that total acreage under cashew cultivation will reach 247,555 acres, representing 3.1% of the potential area for cashews, by the year 2020. Commercial export of cashews from Ghana started in 1991 when CashPro exported about 15 metric tonnes but production is believed to have been a lot higher, estimated at about 75 metric tonnes for the same period. It is also observed that trans-border price differences in certain years causes some inflow of cashew nuts to Ghana, especially from Cote d'Ivoire.
In 1994 for example, whilst Ghana produced about 200 metric tonnes, about 600 metric tonnes was exported. Similarly in 1997, Ghana may have produced only 900 metric tonnes out of the 3,572 metric tonnes of cashew nut exports. Production picked up slowly with plantings from local unselected seeds until 1995 when TechnoServe's cashew seed programme established a local seed production business and also started the importation of high-yielding Brazilian-type seeds. Production has risen from 75 metric tonnes in 1990 to about 1,010 metric tonnes in 1998.
Last month the African Development Bank provided a credit facility of $12.5 million to support cashew production in Ghana.
Raw cashew nuts sell at $650 per metric tonne whilst processed cashew nuts sells at $5,000 per metric tone. Presently these are three cashew processing facilities in Ghana with a total output of about 50 metric tomes. They are Thai Tech and Arrow Farms both privately owned, and the Nsawkaw Cashew Farmers Cooperative Society, which is a TechnoServe-assisted group-owned facility near Wenchi in the Brong Ahafo Region.
CashPro Ltd. was identified and empowered to purchase cashew nuts for export. The company has established buying centres in almost all the cashew producing villages in the Brong Ahafo Region, where a ready market now exists for cashew farmers. Currently, other companies such as OLAM (Gh) Ltd. Ghana National Procurement Agency (GNPA), AGROTRADE, EQUINOX TRADE HOUSE AND DIMBALA FARMS Ltd. have joined the cashew buying business with buying centres in almost all the major cashew producing villages.
The problems of the cashew industry in Ghana include inadequate source of high yielding planting materials and lack of personnel to provide extension service support for the farmers.
Cashew farming is a long-term investment and thus farmers do not have easy access to credit facilities and where they are available, the high interest rates make them unattractive.
The 'abunu and abusa' land terms systems in the areas with the best agro- ecological conditions do not allow for rapid expansion of the cashew industry. This system of crop sharing on a 50-50 or 30-70 proportions between the farmer and the landlord discourages farmers who prefer to pay land rent in cash rather than in kind. Although land abounds for cashew cultivation, some landowners, because of traditional beliefs, do not lease land for tree crops.