FROM TREE TO TRADE
The sandy soils and temperate climate of northern Mozambique create the perfect growing conditions for cashew trees. Mozambique has more than 32 million cashew trees, and nearly 70% are located in the country's "cashew belt" that cuts across the northern provinces of Nampula, Zambezia, and Cabo Delgado. With the proper attention and care of the trees, average yields can be 11 kilograms of raw cashew nut per year, and the productive lifespan of a tree can reach upwards of 50 years. At these rates, cashew production is a business opportunity for smallholder farmers that lasts for generations.
Cashew production is the main source of income for close to 1.4 million rural producers in Mozambique. As one of only a few reliable cash crops that farmers can grow, cashew production is the economic backbone of thousands of communities throughout the country. Smallholder cashew producers typically manage small farms with 10 to 20 cashew trees mixed with other crops. During the harvest, which occurs from October to February in Mozambique, the average cashew farmer produces about 100 kilograms of raw nut for sale to nearby processing facilities. In 2013, total production of raw cashew nut was 64,000 metric tons, making Mozambique the second largest cashew producer in East and Southern Africa, and the 8th largest producer globally.
Over the past few years, one of the greatest challenges for Mozambique's cashew industry has been declining productivity of the country's cashew trees. Since the civil war ended in 1992 and Cyclone Naida destroyed 40% of plantation areas in 1994, very few new trees have been planted to replace those that were destroyed or had outlived their productive lifespan. As a result, yearly yields in the country's cashew producing regions have been well below their potential. Production is now being revitalized, however, through new planting initiatives and distribution of seedlings, as well as farmer extension programs and improved input delivery systems.
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Mozambique has 20 cashew processing facilities, located primarily in rural communities. Together, these factories employ nearly 11,000 people, offering opportunities for stable wage employment in areas where few such opportunities exist.
All processing factories in Mozambique employ either manual or semi-mechanized processing models. In semi-mechanized factories, processing is supported by the use of calibration, cutting, and peeling machines, but manual labor is still required for scooping, grading, and machine operation. While the quality and efficiency of machines have improved greatly in recent years, there is still a lower breakage rate with manual processing, and many facilities choose to process the largest, most valuable nuts by hand as to ensure maximum profit.
Mozambique's cashew processors are committed to sustainable sourcing, implementation of traceability systems in their facilities, and compliance with food safety certification programs such as HACCP and BRC Food Safety. Factories use basic batch processing systems and paper-based tracking forms, but these practices are quickly evolving into higher-tech solutions that use bar codes and computer-based tracking systems to chart the kernels' path from farm to table.
Factories purchase raw nuts from farmers during the harvest season that lasts from October to February, with the majority of the purchases occurring in November and December. The infographic below details the steps of cashew processing, from the arrival of raw cashew nuts at the factory gate through their commercialization.
At each step of the process, the cashew nut is transformed. The nut changes size, shape, texture and color as it moves from its raw state to a finished product that can be consumed or sold for additional processing, such as roasting or flavoring.
Cashew Apples © Shutterstock