(Business in Cameroon) - This year, SODECOTON intends to plant 2 million cashew trees in the northern region. The plants will complement the one million cashew trees already planted by the company over the past two years. According to internal sources, this operation is part of the company’s strategy to secure lands and diversify income sources for both the company and the about 200,000 producers it currently collaborates with. Above all, the operation is initiated in the framework of a larger program aimed at planting 20 million cashew trees by over 5 to 6 years, the sources added.
"We aim to encourage the national cotton producers’ federation to enter into cashew processing," explains Mohamadou Bayero Bounou, SODECOTON’s director-general. Indeed, the cash crop is not yet popular among producers but the hot climate in northern regions is better suited for its production. According to public authorities and several experts, cashew nut can complement cotton, which is currently the only cash crop produced in the northern regions of Cameroon.
So, to boost cashew production, in October 2018, with support from the German Cooperation, Cameroon elaborated a national strategy for the development of the cashew value chain. That strategy aims to create 150,000 jobs in the three northern regions and the East, within five years, with the development of 150,000 hectares of cashew trees during the same period. The strategy also eyes the creation of 1,000 direct jobs in the processing segment.
The grey gold
Cameroon has all it takes to fulfill the aims stated in the national strategy. Indeed, for over three years now, the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) has been implementing a program aimed at producing 10 million cashew seedlings by the end of 2021. Officially, those seedlings will be sufficient to develop about 100,000 hectares of cashew plantation in Cameroon. Meanwhile, according to an executive at the German cooperation, the interest shown by an agribusiness giant like SODECOTON bodes well for the development of the cashew sector in Cameroon.
In Cameroon, cashew development is like an unfulfilled dream, according to concordant testimonies. Indeed, to prevent the economies of the three northern regions from heavily relying on cotton production, the late President Ahmadou Ahidjo introduced cashew production in those regions. During a reforestation campaign, in Sanguéré (not far from Garoua), in 1975, cashew trees were planted on several hectares of land.
At the time, the plan was to develop 10,000 hectares of cashew plantations, build plants for cashew juice production and cashew nuts sales. However, roughly 50 years later, only 650 hectares of cashew plantations have been effectively developed but they have been abandoned, sources close to the case informed. At the same time, no cashew processing plant was built. Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire, which started developing cashew production at the same time as Cameroon is currently the leading cashew producer worldwide with an average of 750,000 tons of cashew nuts sold every year.
Brice R. Mbodiam