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  • Cashew boom eats into forests as Côte d’Ivoire plantations amass “size of the Hawaiian islands” 11/10/2023

    Nov 10th, 2023

    The degradative environmental and economic impacts of the growing global appetite for cashews are revealed in a report co-authored by Mighty Earth, Regroupement des Acteurs Ivoiriens des Droits Humains and Green Forest Africa. This demand has fueled a growth in cashew orchards, leading to a loss of nature and posing a threat to food security. Côte d’Ivoire, now standing as the top global cashew exporter with earnings surpassing US$961 million in 2021 and production exceeding one million tons in 2022, has experienced a decline in forest cover. This decline is attributed to agricultural expansion, primarily for cashew cultivation. The report suggests an area nearly the size of the Hawaiian islands (1.6 million hectares) is currently used to cultivate cashews in Côte d’Ivoire. And some parts of that cashew-growing region have seen as much as a 25% loss of primary forest cover between 2019 and 2023. Julian Oram, Mighty Earth Senior Director for Africa, tells Food Ingredients First: “The expansion of cashew orchards in Côte d’Ivoire has now extended south and eastwards into the so-called ‘mosaic’ dry forest-grassland ecosystems. Much of the dry savanna forest is now under threat from human pressures.” “We want to see the industry enact a moratorium on further expansion in these landscapes, and work with government actors, farmers, biologists, and local civil society to restore degraded areas that could act as critical corridors for wildlife by connecting remaining areas of dry forest. ” Seeking change from regulatory authority The local ecosystem stretched through the central part of the country, harboring a variety of flora and fauna significant to the region. Clearance for cashews has taken place recently in Côte d'Ivoire (Image credit: Mighty Earth). Amourlaye Touré, senior adviser at Mighty Earth, reflected on the ongoing changes: “Cashew plantations dominate the landscape as far as the eye can see. Growing up in Côte d’Ivoire, there was an abundance of wildlife, but traveling through cashew growing regions now, it’s very hard to spot wild animals or birds.” He emphasized the necessity to “ensure cashew farmers are supported to shift to sustainable practices to safeguard their livelihoods and protect nature.” Conseil du Coton et de l’anacarde (CCA), which is known as the cotton and cashew council, established regional delegations to enhance transparency in commercial transactions, encompassing responsibilities ranging from licensing traders to verifying the price and origins of nuts. “The first thing we’d like to see from CCA is an acknowledgment of the problem. This should be followed by strengthening internal capacity on environmental and social issues related to cashew by dedicating additional resources to the sustainability division within the agency.” “We would also like to see the CCA transparently share the steps they are taking to protect biodiversity and restore landscapes in cashew growing regions.” Necessity of diversified farming Civil society organizations are also advocating for responsible industry action, urging for investments in sustainable farming practices. Oram says: “Aside from curbing expansion of cashew cultivation into remaining areas of native dry forest, we want to see cashew-farming communities supported to diversify their farms and livelihoods.” “Although cashew trees are hostile to other plants, certain techniques – such as limiting cashew trees to farm boundaries to leave space for other food and cash crops in the middle – can help farmers decrease their dependency on cashew, improve household food and nutritional security, and nurture other commercial crops.” “The industry also needs to move from a focus on expanding production of raw cashew, to increasing processing and value-added activities in Côte d’Ivoire. We know that this is a focus of the CCA, and we support these efforts.” A bowl of cashew-based food is put on the table. The trends observed in the industry over the past few years are poised to accelerate in the future as the market for plant-based alternatives gets more focused on new applications. US ties with global cashew farming Cashews are rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including iron and magnesium. Eating the nuts can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack. Beyond their nutritional benefits, cashews have gained popularity in the realm of dairy alternatives. Innovations like cashew milk, cashew-based cheese, and cashew-based cream sauces and sour cream have emerged, catering to diverse dietary preferences. Oram points out that as the largest consumer of cashews in the world, the US should support sustainable cashew farming practices in Africa: “American companies buying and selling cashew should work with their suppliers to develop full, farm-level traceability for their cashew supply chains and publish this information on their websites.” “They should also carry out due diligence on their suppliers, to understand the environmental and social risks in their Ivorian cashew supply chains, and work with them to ensure the farmers at the bottom of the supply chain have the resources and training to produce cashews sustainably, in a way that does not degrade biodiverse ecosystems, and reduce their dependence on cashew as a sole source of livelihoods,” Oram concludes.