How farmer professionalism can build resilience in uncertain times
SCOPEinsight’s tools and systems allow market players to measure and advance farmer professionalism in a data-driven way. Over the past 11 years, this has helped our clients such as Shelter for Life link agribusinesses to markets and finance. The following story highlights the importance of professionalism in helping producers’ resilience to externalities and market shocks.
Contradiction in Market Share vs. Livelihoods in The Cashew Sector
While not indigenous to the region, West Africa has become a significant supplier of cashew commodities globally. Despite having a 45% share of the international market, there are significant challenges in the supply chain. Harvest yields fall short of their potential and produce often fails to meet international buyers’ quality standards. Consequently, cashew farmers struggle to make a livelihood and cannot access the finance needed to rehabilitate and renovate aging orchards. Furthermore, there is a huge missed employment opportunity as more than 90 percent of jobs in the cashew processing industry are located outside West Africa.
Harnessing Sector Potential Through Evidence-Based Approaches
To augment the cashew sector’s production and marketing capacity in West Africa, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with Shelter For Life International (SFL) as the lead implementing agency, initiated a project entitled Linking Infrastructure, Finance, and Farms To Cashew (LIFFT-Cashew). This program addresses the sector’s challenges by developing value chain linkages necessary to support an integrated regional trade network for the cashew value chain and enhancing the production, processing, and trade of cashews in local and international markets.
Central to Shelter for Life’s approach is to strengthen local processors, like SODAM in Senegal, professional capacity. Also, the project also strengthens farmer cooperatives and associations to professionalize so that their quality and production are optimized. Furthermore, the project links these organizations to international buyers, commercial buyers, and financial institutions. The process to achieve this goal was for the project to first assess these organizations’ level of professionalism (using SCOPEinsight’s assessments) and, from this, identify their weaknesses and implement targeted technical assistance.
COVID-19 and the Cashew Sector
However, in 2020, the cashew sector took a hit as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the market. Alongside a price slide (which was already happening in the market), processing slowed in Asia, and border closures in March halted travel from major buyers in Vietnam and India.
Nevertheless, the project’s market linkages with contracts secured with buyers in France, Canada, and Dubai have helped offset some of the market shocks.
“What seemed like a dream two years ago, now we export our products to Morocco, Turkey, France, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates in addition to the Senegalese market.”Mussab Elhadi, Operations Director and Managing Partner at SODAM
Additionally, the project quickly responded by piloting and implementing SCOPEinsight’s remote assessments. By the end of the summer, the project had completed assessments and used the actionable data from the assessments to devise an effective training program.
A Bright Future
Undoubtedly, the groundwork that the project laid by strengthening SODAM’s capacity to export to international buyers helped shoulder some of the shocks to the West African cashew market. We can also be hopeful that their work in professionalizing farmer cooperatives will result in higher yields and quality – which will further strengthen the market’s resilience. As Tiburce Manga, Market Access Coordinator for the LIFFT-Cashew Project in Senegal, optimistically states, “We are hoping for small improvements in 2021 to achieve bigger results in the next two to three years”.
 Technoserve, 2018, “SeGaBi Cashew Value Chain Study”