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God’s Gift To Humankind!

Updated: November 3, 2012 2:16 pm

This writer was invited to deliver the keynote address at the International Conference on Cashew at Panjim, Goa earlier this week. Organised by the Directorate of Cashew and Cocoa Development in association with the ICAR, Goa government and the Cashew Export Promotion Council, it was a gathering of stakeholders and experts from India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Benin, Nigeria and Tanzania—the major players in the world cashew production, trade and export. However, the preparation of the inaugural address gave this writer an opportunity to read the background papers and presentations for the conference. The complete text of the address is available on the website of the National Horticulture Mission.

The interesting thing about cashew from the Indian perspective is that we are the world’s largest producer, consumer, processor, exporter and importer. While being the largest producer and consumer is understandable on account of the sheer size of our country, the fact of being the largest exporter and importer does sound odd! This is because our processing capacity is much higher than our domestic production, and we have to import raw cashew to ensure that our processing capacity is used optimally! Processed cashew fetches very good value and therefore a major share of our imports is again re-exported after value addition.

Some facts about cashew. Originally a native of Brazil, cashew is now grown in nearly thirty countries, but the core production has shifted from Latin America to Asia and Africa because it is a labour-intensive crop, and can be grown on marginal lands as well. Indonesia and the Philippines are also major producers (in addition to the countries mentioned above). Cashew came to India in the fifteenth century mainly for afforestation and soil conservation, but it has now taken deep roots here, especially along the coastal belt. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Odisha and West Bengal have been growing cashew for centuries, but in recent times, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and the North-east are also bringing large areas under cashew production.

While we are all aware of the cashew kernel and the many different ways in which it is put to use raw, salted, fried, toasted and as part of several mixtures the cashew apple is also a very good source of protein and can be used in candies and confectionary. Likewise, CNSL (cashew nut shell liquid) produced in the processing of cashew is also an important industrial raw material for the production of paints and varnishes. In fact, it is because of the varied uses that the processing capacity continues to grow for every part of the fruit is amenable to use.

The global consumption of cashew kernel is around 3.5 lakh MT, of which about 40 per cent comes from India, and the rest from other countries. In terms of production, Vietnam,Tanzania, Benin and Brazil also constitute a significant share, though in terms of processing, over 70 per cent of the world’s processing capacity is in India, and it continues to grow. In value terms, India exported over Rs 4500 crores of cashews in the last financial year.

Another interesting point about cashew is that while it is produced by marginal and small farmers, the consumption is usually by the richer sections of society. Thus it also performs an important role in linking economies across the different sections of society. Cashew processing can also be taken up by small and medium enterprises, and as innovative uses of cashew apple are being found, several self-help groups and microentrepreneurs have also entered the business of cashew processing.

Does this mean that all is fine with the world of cashew? Yes and No. Producers and processors often work in conjunction but there are always conflicts of interest. Processors want a liberal import regime for raw cashew from all over the world, while producers want imports to be restricted to ensure higher returns for the domestic producers. The Commerce Ministry and the Cashew Export Promotion Council want to treat cashew as a commercial commodity, the Department of Agriculture wants to treat cashew as a an agricultural produce. Commerce Ministry wants the Directorate of Cashew to be subsumed under a Cashew Board (on the lines of the Tea Board and the Coffee Board) because of its export potential: the Agricultural Ministry feels that because the production is in the hands of the marginal and small farmers the agriculture departments of the states are better suited to respond to the needs of the farmers. This is not all. Traditionally, Kerala dominated the production and trade of cashew, it is now moving on to other states as production and processing are moving out of Kerala on account of high labour costs. The tribal belts are now emerging as the main production hubs and self-help groups are increasing their share and stake in the production, even as they take the first steps towards the processing of the produce! And in addition to all the products listed above, cashew also lends itself to a rather heady concoction called feni, and many Goans believe that this is the best gift of cashew to humankind! Many of the leading hotels in Goa now offer interesting feni-based fruit cocktails and though this writer cannot vouchsafe the claim from personal experience, anecdotal evidence from other participants supports the claim!

 By Sanjeev Chopra

(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)

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