Alongside cocoa and coffee, cashew nuts are one of the flagship products of Ivorian agriculture. Ivory Coast benefits from ideal climatic conditions for cashew cultivation, with a strong presence of sunshine and regular rainfall. The soils are also suitable for this crop, which allows for high-quality cashew nuts. The production of cashew nuts in the country has seen a strong increase in 2020 and 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, production reached around 849,000 tonnes, an increase of 33% compared to 2019. In 2021, production was estimated at around 1 million tonnes, a historic level for the country. The government set the purchase price for producers at 305 FCFA/kg for the 2021 campaign and reinforced the fight against the leakage of nuts to neighboring countries, encouraging local transformation of the nuts.
The country mainly exports its nuts to India, Vietnam, and Brazil, which have processing industries. Aware of the importance of this nut, also called “grey gold,” in global trade as a strategic product, the country is now the world’s third-largest exporter of cashew nuts. In 2021, the country sold no less than 30,022 tonnes of this product. Today, Ivorian cashew nuts are recognized for their superior quality and unique taste, allowing them to position themselves on the most demanding international markets. Ivory Coast’s main customers in terms of cashew nut exports are Europe, the United States, and Asia.
However, even though cashew is a key agricultural product for Ivory Coast’s economy, the transformation of raw nuts into value-added products remains a significant challenge for the country. While the cashew processing sector in Ivory Coast has experienced rapid growth in recent years, there are still many challenges to overcome to improve the transformation and commercialization of this product. According to a report by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the potential for cashew transformation in Ivory Coast is enormous, with the possibility of creating many jobs and increasing the incomes of local farmers. One of the main challenges is the lack of adequate processing infrastructure and equipment. Most small and medium-sized enterprises involved in cashew processing in Ivory Coast do not have the necessary processing equipment to produce high-quality products and meet international standards. In addition, the management of cashew waste is also a challenge as shells and residues can have a negative impact on the environment. According to an article published by the Ivorian National Agronomic Research Institute (INRA-CI), the management of cashew waste can be improved through the production of biofuels and organic fertilizers. Finally, access to international markets is another significant challenge. Quality and food safety standards are strict, and the costs of certification and compliance with international standards can be high. According to the International Trade Centre (ITC), exporters of cashew-based processed products must also be able to meet specific customer requirements, such as product traceability and halal or kosher certification.
Despite these challenges, initiatives have been launched to improve cashew transformation in Ivory Coast. In 2018, the Ivorian government launched a cashew transformation program aimed at encouraging investment in local cashew transformation. The program also aims to strengthen the capacities of local cashew processing companies and improve access to international markets. Four industrial zones for processing are under construction in Bouaké (central), Korhogo (north), Bondoukou (east), and Séguéla (north-west). In the future industrial zone of Bouaké, a site of more than 400 hectares will be exclusively dedicated to cashew transformation. The Ivorian government aims to transform 50% of its cashew production on site by 2026. This decision was announced by the Ivorian Prime Minister, Patrick Achi, during the launch of an action plan for cashew transformation in January 2021. The plan includes measures to improve the quality of cashew production and to encourage investment in the necessary infrastructure to transform cashew nuts into finished products. The government also intends to provide incentives to encourage local entrepreneurs to invest in cashew transformation. According to Prime Minister Patrick Achi, this initiative should create thousands of jobs for local populations and significantly increase the country’s wealth. He also emphasized that on-site cashew transformation would reduce Ivory Coast’s dependence on raw material exports. Similar initiatives have been launched in other African cashew-producing countries, such as Nigeria and Benin, which also intend to transform a large portion of their cashew production on site.