ACCRA, Ghana – As Ghana’s once thriving agricultural sector takes a backseat to its booming service industry, the cashew nut may help farmers survive in the changing economic landscape. In the last two decades, agriculture’s share of Ghana’s gross domestic product has shrunk from more than 50 percent to less than 30 percent, according to statistics from the Databank Group. While some may argue that this is indicative of modernization, the diminishing role of agriculture in a country slightly smaller than Oregon, is devastating for food crop and export farmers.
“We don’t have stable crop prices to support rural incomes,” said Sampson Akligoh, economic analyst with Databank Group. “Farm incomes remain very low, below poverty level, which is $1.25 per day in Ghana.”
Poverty is by far the highest among food crop farmers, especially those located in the rural Northern, Upper West and Upper East regions of the country, according to the Fifth Ghana Living Standard Survey. However, the African Cashew Initiative (ACi) is stepping in.
The ACi intends to structure the country’s “wild” and emerging cashew market over the project’s four -year duration, aiming to see the production chain go from start to finish in one country. The project cuts across all aspects of the creation of a finished, marketable product, beginning with the training and organizing of farmers.
“Farmers here didn’t even know what the cashew nut looked like,” said Rita Weidinger, executive director of the ACi.
Through farmer education programs, the ACi is helping to alleviate poverty plaguing individual farmers. The ACi is also providing assistance to processors and traders, focusing primarily on medium-sized agribusinesses throughout Ghana.
“Africa is the best place to start because processing is just taking off in Africa,” said Mary Adzanyo, director of private sector development for the ACi.
The processors, many of them fairly new to the cashew industry, are grateful for the help they have received and the resulting growth in their businesses. “The assistance to Kona Agro Processing has been really immense the form of identifying markets, technological assistance and in the form of trading and all that,” said Kwabena Taylor, chief operations officer for Kona Agro Processing, located in Wenchi.
Taylor has been involved in the cashew industry for nine years. He was previously in the electronics business before he and his brother formed a company to process cashews for export. “It’s changed my life with regards to several things,” Taylor said of his business. “It has opened a lot of tunnels and created a lot of opportunities.”
As more opportunities for traders and farmers are being created, many due to the African Cashew Initiative and its programs, Ghana’s cashew exports are increasing. In 2000, Ghana exported approximately 3,500 metric tons of cashew nuts, according to the Statistics, Research and Information Directorate issued by the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture. This has since grown to nearly 53,000 in 2009.
As the ACi and the Ghanaian government work to improve exports, both anticipate continued growth in the coming years, as more consumers, especially those in the United States and Europe purchase cashews made from start to finish in Ghana.