Cashew nut processing: from trees to treats

How could we enhance economic development sustainably through value-added processing and better market access?

One of the livelihood diversification strategies of the SAEV project is to introduce fruit and nut trees in the beneficiary villages. There is a strong dependence on wet season field crops, and the lack of edible fruit and nut trees in the community makes a strong case for both improving income generation opportunity and household food security.

Currently, the CLCOP nursery is selecting and preparing tree seedlings for distribution in August. One of them is cashew tree. The local climate is favourable for cashew production, and the processed nuts sell at a premium price both in rural and urban markets. Also, cashew nut processing work is often done by women – a significant income generating opportunity, particularly for women.

I found a women’s economic interest group (Groupement d’Intérêt Économique in French, GIE) called Bokk Diom who are successfully operating and marketing processed cashew nuts at Passy in Fatick region (about 40 minutes away by vehicle from Wack Ngouna). The GIE of Bokk Diom has been operating since 1987 and has over 35 active women members. Their organisation (and their product) has been recognised by both regional and national “Prix d’excellence” and their products are sold in Dakar and other various urban regions in Sénégal. To learn from their successful experience, I visited the GIE as well as the Federation of cashew planters and producers of Sénégal (also in Passy) and several cashew orchards. The principal objective of this visit was to learn through field observation and experience (by actively participating in the processing work) from a well-established women’s cooperative group as a mentoring partner for the SAEV women groups.

Working with women members at Bbok Diom was an eye-opening experience. The processing work is laborious and can be harsh to your body: firing oil-rich nut shells and cracking them by hand and exposure to smoke are all risks that one must assume in this work. Also, cashew shells contain high levels of anacardic acid and if spattered on the skin, though painless, it burns instantly (I learned the hard way). The workers wear gloves, but the cotton gloves don’t last long against hot oil and acid. Something should be done to protect them better. On average, each member works over eight hours to process ten to 15 kilogrammes of nuts a day. A remarkable concentration and patience.

Here is a visual journey of cashew nut transformation and processing.

Pic. 1. Cashew orchard
Pic.2. Sorting out raw cashew nuts for roasting
Pic. 3. Traditional roasting method
Pic. 4. First roast
Pic. 5.  Cracking by hand
Pic. 6. First layer of shell removed
Pic. 7 & 8. Secondary roasting using traditional stove
Pic. 9. Peeling the cashew peel
(Mère Fatou Bop on left and Seynabou Niang on right, president and vice-president of the GIE Bbok Diom, respectively)
Pic.10. Ready for packaging (and tasting!)

Published by Sung Kyu Kim

Sung Kyu is a research fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex

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