Cashew Cultivation: An Opportunity for a New Start
Less than five years ago, Jean-Baptiste Bationo, a farmer from Bouaflé in central Côte d’Ivoire, had no experience growing cashews and instead grew cocoa, which he had cultivated for over 20 years. However, with the cacao swollen shoot virus (CSSV) devastating plantations across Côte d’Ivoire, Bationo’s harvests were affected, putting his operations in a tenuous situation. Bationo and farmers experiencing similar damage had to find a sustainable solution that would rid them of the CSSV problem and improve their activities for the long run.
This led Bationo to work with the USDA Food for Progress West Africa PRO-Cashew Project which offered to provide farmers with high-quality grafted seedlings as part of its cashew seedling initiative. This initiative aims to promote the expansion of trees with favorable traits such as larger nut sizes, resilience to climatic shifts and the ability to speed up the production of their first harvest, helping farmers increase their production and quality to be more competitive in local markets.
Seeing an opportunity to replace his virus-prone cacao with this new profitable crop, Bationo signed up to be shortlisted as a participant and eventually received 130 cashew seedlings from PRO-Cashew at a subsidized cost in 2022.
“I was very concerned, because I thought at the time [replacing my cacao plantation] was a huge loss for me,” Bationo said. “After all the effort I’d put into creating and growing my cacao plantation, I did not know what to do.”
For him, cashew planting was an ideal solution for replacing his cacao plantation. The grafted plants provided by PRO-Cashew are resistant to diseases and resilient to the effects of climate change. Additionally, cashew trees require less rainfall than cacao plantations. Where cacao plantations require between 1,500-2,000 millimeters of rainfall annually, cashew trees only require 800-1,800 millimeters.Finally, the grafted seedlings only take three years to produce their first harvest compared to the typical five years normal seedlings take, ensuring a quicker restart to his activities.
After taking advantage of the Agence Nationale d’Appui au Développement Rural (ANADER) governmental program that supports farmers with uprooting their cacao crops to eradicate CSSV at no cost to farmers, Bationo’s plantation was ready to start fresh with his new cashew venture.
A year into the restoration of his plantation, his new cashew seedlings were developing well. And while waiting for the crops to start producing, Bationo decided to intercrop bananas and casava within the plantation to bring in an additional source of income. As he continues transitioning to a new and more sustainable agricultural endeavor, he hopes to serve as a source of inspiration to other cacao growers experiencing CSSV by helping them convert to the fruitful cashew sector.
For producers looking to transition into or enhance their cashew production, PRO-Cashew supports them to access improved planting materials, connect with technical experts that enhance their operations and participate in workshops designed to strengthen their financial management. The Project also works to build linkages with market actors such as seedling retailers—including those connected to commercial nurseries established through public-private partnerships, farm renovation and rehabilitation providers and rural-based service providers to help farmers develop transition plans and receive tree cutting and pruning services. With these options available, farmers like Bationo have the opportunity to grow and thrive.