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  • Cashew processing in Benin: the evils that ruin the hatching of the sector

    Jan 24th, 2020

    Nicknamed “gray gold” , the cashew nut is becoming more and more important and is considered in many countries as a “quick fix” because of its diversified potential. Like the rest of African producers (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Guinea Bissau), Benin exports the vast majority of nuts in raw form, mainly to India.

    According to the agricultural statistics firm Planetoscope, this is a considerable shortfall, since once transformed its value is almost doubled. Elected in 2016, President Patrice Talon, determined to change the trend by promoting the processing of local raw materials, has made cashews one of the priority sectors through his agricultural program "Cashew tomorrow".

    After three years, the results are disgusting. Admittedly, there are good performances both in production and in export. But on the processing side, the objective prices displayed are not very satisfactory. Many obstacles prevent this sector from coming out of the abyss.

    First, processors face double competition from Indians and Vietnamese who occupy the world market with almost 75% of sales. Indian processors round off the Beninese cashew nut because it has good graininess and provides the whitest almond and is highly prized. They are ready to outbid the cost of the ton to win the monopoly of imports of cashew nuts from Benin.

    Secondly, Beninese processors do not have access to the Indian market (very remunerative) for the sale of their white almonds, due to very high import taxes. They therefore turn to the European and American markets which align with Vietnamese prices, without taking into account the exceptional quality of Beninese white almonds.

    Third, the difference in processing costs between Benin and its competitors is enormous: 250 dollars (147,962 FCFA) per ton in Vietnam, 350 dollars (207,147 FCFA) per ton in India and 475 dollars (281,128 FCFA) per ton in Benin . The cost of processing is significantly higher in Benin than in the other two countries.

    According to the Beninese processors listened to, this situation can be explained in three different ways: the additional cost of installation and maintenance of equipment in the order of 40% compared to Asian units; the cost of transformation higher than 50% of that of Asian transformers, of a lower cost of energy, of mechanization and autonomy program supported by the State; the higher financial cost of about 50% in Africa compared to Asian processors, given the higher interest rates charged here and the fact that Asia sources nuts of different origins throughout the year unlike African processors who only source in their own country and must bear a financial burden related to the management of their stocks.

    In addition, during processing, the Vietnamese register at most 15% broken almonds. Unlike Benin which goes up to 45% broken almonds. While broken, white almonds yield less in terms of added value.

    From bad to worse

    The profitability of cashew processors was between 0 and 10% of turnover. In 2018, everything went haywire. Situation: at the start of the season, foreign buyers from West Africa and especially Benin raised prices up to one million FCFA per tonne on the field.

    At the same time, the price of white almonds, which was above 5 USD / lb (around 3000 FCFA), fell to 3.3 USD / lb (around 2000 FCFA). Result: Beninese processors found themselves trapped between the high price of the raw material and a finished product which had dropped by 30%. According to the CEO of Fludor Benin, Roland Riboux, the losses caused are estimated at 400 dollars per tonne (about 240 million FCFA per thousand tonne).

    A wealth of opportunities but under threat

    In this competitive market dominated by India (25% of the 2.2 million tonnes of world production), Benin is one of the main producers on the African continent with 100,000 tonnes harvested in the last two seasons. Besides the increase in local production, processing is the means to allow the country to better benefit from the cashew nut sector.

    The almond, which represents only 22% of the nut, is not the only element from which the country can profit. A dozen local businesses in northern and central Benin use cashew apples, the fleshy peduncle, yellow to red in color, which sits above the nuts, to transform them into fruit juice. As for the hulls, they are used in cement factories.

    According to Roland Riboux, the new derivative product, cashew balm replaces chemicals and has many industrial uses: in certain paints, braking systems, in aeronautics and even in the pharmaceutical industry. The entire cashew value chain thus provides a platform for the economic empowerment of women and the employment of young people.

    Estimates of the Competitive Cashew initiative, Com Cashew, a regional GIZ public-private partnership project speaks volumes. "Almost 400,000 jobs have been created in the last 9 years in the production of cashews, 40% of which were reserved for women," we can remember.

    But this part of the industry is in dirty sheets. Out of an effective production of around 27,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts processed annually (for a capacity of 60,000 tonnes), the units would lose around 2 billion FCFA in the year (or 88,425 FCFA per tonne). These poor performances have recently caused the doors of the Cashew section of the Fludor Benin company to close after three years of investment and work.

    The first manager of this company, reveals with desolation "our other activities are doing pretty well because they were the ones that covered the losses from the processing of cashew nuts" . And yet, boosting national cashew production and meeting the challenge of local processing, were two priority objectives of the Government Action Program (PAG), which wants to make this nut the second export product of the country after cotton .

    If we refer to the data estimated by specialist N'Kalô, production is growing faster than processing in the countries of West Africa. But in Benin, the situation is different.