(Business in Cameroon) - Well known in Africa’s cocoa industry, the head of Globalru-Urban Consultants Inc, based in Ghana, is one of the experts who elaborated Cameroon’s national development strategy for the cashew sector. Here, he discusses opportunities that the sector holds for the Cameroonian economy.
Business in Cameroon (BIC) : Following the elaboration of the national strategy to develop value chains of the cashew sector in Cameroon, what is your review of the industry ?
Hope Sona Ebai (HSE) : Cameroon’s cashew industry is still at the embryonic stage. It is true that cashew trees have been planted in the country since 1975 but the sector is yet to be fully developed, from production to processing, including production and distribution of improved seeds.
BIC : In Sanguéré, in the North, there is a plantation of more than 100 hectares that dates back to the 70s. So how is it that the sector hasn’t taken off in so many years ?
HSE : At the time, cashew trees were planted only to reforest. I am well acquainted with the Sanguéré project as I had just returned to Cameroon after my studies abroad when it was launched. It was funded by the National Fund for Rural Development –FONADER. So, the fact was that even if cashew was consumed by the people, it was not seen as an agricultural commodity. However, today, with a rising demand for cashew nuts in Niger and exporters flooding production areas, the sector is now considered a profitable one.
BIC : Cashew trees which produce cashew nuts grow in specific agro-ecologic zones. In Cameroon, where are the main production basins ?
HSE : Identified basins are mostly in the far-North, Adamaoua, the North, the East, part of the Central region, in the department of Mbam which has a dry weather to be exact. Well, cashew grows in hot regions, so the more the rain, the less the yield.
BIC : Some people wish to start growing the crop in Cameroon but have to deal with the lack or unavailability of seeds. How does the national development strategy plan to overcome these challenges?
HSE : What should be done is plan large scale production of seeds since the sector cannot be truly developed with backyard plantations only. For example, to get 10,000 tons of cashew nuts per year, 11 million seedlings are needed. We must therefore produce high-yield seeds since there will also be losses to take into account. For cocoa for example, seeds’ mortality rate reach 35% for traditional seeds.
BIC : Currently, the Agricultural Research Institute for Development (IRAD) is carrying out a program that aims to produce 10 million cashew seeds by 2021. Are these seeds efficient, genetically ?
HSE : Unfortunately, I do not know anything about the genetic composition of these seeds since I don’t know their origin. From what I know however, IRAD must first genetically characterize the seeds and then pick those that are suited for agro-ecologic zones where cashew can be grown. It will take some time and that is why those in need of the seeds have to be a little patient. Even if we import seeds from West Africa, we first need an adaptation assessment of Cameroon’s micro-climates.
Seeds that are currently distributed don’t surely ensure optimal yields. This is done to get farmers interested in the crop, get them to fully engage in the sector, while implementing actions that will help obtain more interesting yields.
BIC : In Côte d’Ivoire, cashew is known as “grey gold”, due to its impact on economic growth of rural areas. What economic assets could this sector offer in Cameroon ?
HSE : I believe cashew is an agricultural industry that has so much more to offer rural areas, beyond revenues. For example, in cotton-farming zones in the north, cashew is an additional source of revenue, besides cotton. Today, Côte d’Ivoire is far more advanced in this sector but it started just like us now. However, after five to seven years, Ivorians noticed that some cashew seeds were not good varieties. That is why we must be careful and provide our research institutions with adequate means to take a good start.
BIC : In West Africa, cashew-farming is well integrated in populations’ habits and helps farmers generate significant revenues. However, in this region, processing is a bit ignored. In Cameroon, what does the cashew sector national development strategy plan in this regard ?
HSE : Under the national strategy, the whole sector is taken into account, both production and processing. Actually, in this regard, a major fair will take place in Côte d’Ivoire this month, November 2018, where processing equipment will be showcased. Actors of the Cameroonian cashew industry will attend the event and will be able to see and appreciate available products and determine what fits best their expectations.
BIC : Just like it is the case with cocoa, we might end up in a situation where small scale farmers are excluded from the processing chain because they lack means to purchase equipment, unlike major players…
HSE : Today, in the cocoa industry, we have small equipment that can fit in a room. This is also possible in the cashew sector. With technology evolving, there are more and more processing equipment that meet small scale farmers’ needs.
BIC : In terms of agro-industrial development in Africa, one of the main challenges is the difficulty to access financing. Once again, what does the national development strategy plan for in this regard ?
HSE : Indeed, the strategy looks at this issue. We have exchanged on how to build bankable projects and attract investments in the sector, both from banks, States and foreign investments as well.
BIC : In your estimates, when could Cameroon become an actual cashew producer, if the national development strategy for the sector is effectively implemented ?
HSE : The strategy we worked on aims to make Cameroon a visible player on the cashew market five years from now, by 2023 that is. The emphasis here is becoming visible, no more for the moment.
Interview by Brice R. Mbodiam