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September 21st, 2017

Developing the African Cashew Market

The African Cashew Initiative (ACi) was created in 2009 to improve the production, processing and bringing to market of cashew nuts from five African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique. Funded principally by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the project uses advisory services and training to help cashew farmers and processors meet international standards. The initiative – now renamed as ComCashew – has achieved a very positive impact in the cashew market, and its organisers renewed and enhanced their commitment to the programme in 2016.

The initiative

The African Cashew Initiative (ACi) was created in 2009 to improve primary production, processing and market linkages along the value chain of the cashew market. It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development [Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung] (BMZ). The project uses advisory services and training at all stages of the production process to help the cashew farmers and processors in five African countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique - meet international standards. "The project focuses on supporting producers and processors to increase their yields and the quality of their products, as well as linking the business actors along the chain."[4]

The ACi has had three phases of development:

  • “The ACi completed its first phase and four years of implementation (2009-2013) addressing all components of the cashew value chain − from production to processing to commercialisation - with direct interventions. More than 250,000 individual farmers have been trained with 1.9 million members of rural households benefiting from this intervention.
  • "In the second phase (2013-2015), the ACi - now ComCashew - consolidated the training activities undertaken during the first phase. The ACi placed considerable emphasis on establishing efficient linkages between farmers and processors and developing better planting material to increase cashew yield and quality. An innovative instrument of the ACi's phase two is the Cashew Matching Fund - a unique public private partnership model − and the only fund for cashews worldwide."
  • The ACi entered its third phase with a new name: Competitive Cashew initiative (ComCashew). “ComCashew constitutes a new type of broad-based multi‐stakeholder partnership in development cooperation. The German International Cooperation [Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH] (GIZ), has been commissioned to manage the project and facilitate cooperation among competitive private partners."[5] Members of the ACA contribute their resources and expertise as partners.

The challenge

Africa has long been one of the major producers of cashews, accounting for over a third of the world's production in 2006 (605,000 tons out of 1.6 million tons worldwide) and exporting an estimated 95 percent of raw cashews abroad.

However, despite this apparently positive performance, a lack of infrastructure meant that local farmers did not get much benefit from their efforts. "Despite the apparent good standing of the continent's exports, the majority of the farmers continue to struggle to make the needed economic impact, forcing them to either fold up completely or shift their attention to the cultivation of new set of crops... From a low level of local consumption to the absence of credit facility from the banks and other donor agencies, farmers continue to struggle to stay in business.”[1]

In cashew-growing countries like Ghana, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and even Côte d'Ivoire - one of the strongest nations engaged in the industry - a lack of financing for raw material purchases and a lack of buyers of kernels were common problems facing cashew producers. A further problem was that without a national export brand and a credible quality certification, these countries' kernels were not recognised in the international market.

Given the dearth of processing facilities, cashews were exported raw and at lower prices than a more specialised product would sell for. "The Ghanaian industry is dogged by low inputs, low yields and poor prices for raw nuts... TechnoServe, which is operational in most of Africa's major cashew-growing nations, says the lack of viable processing industries means that African countries are foregoing tremendous value-added gains. It says the price for cashew kernels has of late averaged USD4,500 per tonne, compared with USD500-USD700 per tonne for raw cashew nuts.”[2]

As a response to this, the industry formed a continental cashew association called the African Cashew Alliance (ACA) to promote a campaign to add value to its cashews, encourage higher production and better quality, and market Africa as a source of quality organic cashews.

Similarly, despite cashews being an important product for the region, producers were disconnected and lacked the resources to improve their practices. “Although cashews were seen as an important value chain in the region in 2009, political acceptance and the perceived importance of the commodity varied among countries; yields lagged behind competing countries. The majority of the estimated 1.5 million cashew farmers in Africa are poor and live in rural areas, where they were... disconnected from markets, and had poor production practices, along with lack of access to training, credit, and inputs. Supply chain relationships between traders and producers were weak."[3]

Therefore, while world cashew production increased, Africa's share was decreasing, and it  was producing considerably less than its potential volume.

The public impact

The initiative has had a very positive impact in strengthening the regional cashew market and improving the capabilities of farm workers in its five countries of operation.

Since it started in April 2009, the ACi has provided training in cultivation methods, good agricultural practices and entrepreneurial skills to more than 414,000 cashew farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique. This has led to an increase in yield per hectare as well as to an annual net income increase of USD161 per farmer. In addition, the quality of cashews has improved, and processing factories have increased their capacity, leading to a higher employment rate in these regions.[6]

Similarly, some 2,200 cashew experts have received specialised training and are qualified to work as trainers themselves. “Nearly 5,800 new jobs have been created in the local processing industries, 73 percent of them for women. Their combined earnings amount to about USD6m, with a maximum wage of USD800 per woman per year. Of the 20 processors supported by the ACi, seven companies are already operating self-sufficiently, using their newly acquired knowledge with no need for further support."[7]

Stakeholder engagement

The ACi was established through the collaboration between several extenal stakeholders and the national governments of the five project countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Mozambique. These external stakeholders included international organisations, private sector partners, and farmer representatives from the local communities. “The ACi is based on a cofinancing agreement with international private companies and public partners, accounting for cash and in-kind contributions. Major private and public partners include Kraft Foods, Intersnack and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Ghana, whose contributions are topped up by the BMGF and BMZ. On the ground, the ACi is supported by four strong partners: GIZ is the lead agency and partners, for example, with the US-based NGO TechnoServe, the Dutch-based NGO FairMatchSupport (FMS), and the ACA, an association of African and international businesses with an interest in promoting a globally competitive African cashew industry."[8]

Political commitment

The ACi has had a continued commitment from its key international partners since 2009 , as well as from its five project countries. It was established and co-funded through matching grants by BMZ, the BMGF, the United States Agency for International Development, and the ministries of agriculture in the project countries, together with collaboration from the private sector, including international food companies such as Kraft Heinz, Olam, and Red River Foods.[9]

The initiative started its third phase in 2016 with continued commitment from BMZ and its five original project countries, as well as new collaborators. “ACi has since received a general commitment from BMZ to enter a third project phase continuing in May 2016. Other funding partners - the Sustainable Trade Initiative [Initiatief Duurzame Handel] (IDH) and the EU/ACP [the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states] secretariat - intend to support the joint vision too."[10]

In a recent consultation of African public and technical actors in the cashew industry, which took place in April 2016, several leaders of the different parties of the ACi communicated their continued commitment to the cause:

  • “Ms Rita Weidinge, executive director of the ACi, has called on African governments 'to invest in the production and policy development of the cashew sector, to increase economic value and enhance private investment'.
  • "Mr Seth Osei Akoto, deputy director in charge of cashew, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, said the cashew industry has real potential for developing value chains and creating job opportunities and fighting against poverty.
  • "Mr Christoph Rauh, German federal minister of economic cooperation and development, said his outfit has supported the growth of agriculture in several African countries because of potential of creating wealth and jobs for those countries."[11]

Public confidence

The initiative has had a good uptake across its participating countries, through the promotion of better farming skills as well as the inclusion of women. The ACi's interventions have encouraged the empowerment of women in cashew farming, and there are several positive testimonies to this impact.

Women participating in a survey about the programme have testified to some of the benefits of the training:  “'I can quickly graft to save my farm if some seedlings go bad… I give the good seeds to my friends and teach them how to graft' (Woman, Ghana)… 'Before I did not know the value of cashew' (Woman, Burkina Faso)."[12]

Similarly, there has been a positive response to the education of trainers. Among the third generation of  graduates from the Master Trainer Programme (MTP), participants were enthusiastic: “'I can be a change agent by being a role model in maintaining and preserving the level of knowledge I gained and by using the skills I have acquired especially for further development of the organisation'… 'The MTP equipped me with new skills like grafting [and] picking of scions from scion banks... My knowledge of processing was deepened and I can say that my expectations were exceeded.'”[13]

Clarity of objectives

The ACi was established with the purpose of increasing the annual income of cashew farmers and creating new jobs and enhancing the processing of raw cashews. It sought to do this by implementing training courses and adopting innovative measures, with a focus on the five project countries. In its second phase, it established more targeted objectives:

  • “Sustainably increase the productivity of African cashew farmers (Production).
  • “Establish sustainable in-country processing and make it competitive on the world market (Processing).
  • “Help creating stable and sustainable business relationships amongst farmer groups, processors, buyers and retailers (Supply Chain Linkages).
  • “Organise key stakeholders of the sector at the national and regional levels around shared goals; ensure the representation of the processing industry by a professional industry association; align the operations of the various donor programmes supporting the sector (Strengthening the organisation of the cashew sector).”[14]

Strength of evidence

The stakeholders made no reference to a similar project, as this was a groundbreaking initiative. “The ACi represents a new and innovative model of broad-based multi‐stakeholder partnership in development cooperation."[15]


The ACi benefited from extensive support - both technical and financial - from some of the largest international development organisations. This provided the initiative with a solid starting point and support for its operations.

A key characteristic of the ACi is its multi-stakeholder structure, in both its financing and its implementation. Therefore, along with the international cofounding partners, GIZ acted as lead management agency for coordination of the ACi, and implementing agency of specific activities.[16]

Along with other private and international organisations, GIZ also provided the technical expertise that made some of the core functions possible. “GIZ served as lead implementer and worked closely with implementing partners FMS, a Dutch-based NGO working on sustainable supply chain linkages; the US-based NGO, TechnoServe, providing technical assistance to local processors; and the ACA, aiding in the effort to increase sector organisation. The core partners were private and public entities that qualified as such with a contribution of USD1 million in cash or in in-kind services towards the initiative's objectives."[17]

The ACi's capacity has also been improved as a result of experience gained during its implementation. For example, training was significantly modified during the second phase to rely primarily on local staff and thus help the sustainability of the initiative. “In phase 1, the ACi trained local extension services and experts directly, using GIZ-staffed country teams. In phase 2, however, the ACi's role transitioned - ACi staff assumed a coaching role with trainers selected from in-country partners... Therefore, an MTP was introduced, with applicants nominated by partner institutions. The master trainers had knowledge across the entire value chain - production, processing, marketing, and so on. During this training, ACi technical staff learned the role of coaches and facilitators.… It was a huge challenge to build ACi staff capacity as strategically oriented coaches rather than technical trainers. ACi groomed in-country experts (trainers of trainers), who now conduct training. This phase 2 strategic shift was only possible because of local competencies and materials developed in phase 1.”[18]


In order to manage the initiative across its five project countries, GIZ worked with three subcontracted implementing partners (see Stakeholder Engagement above), each focusing on a separate intervention area. “GIZ leads the implementation of interventions in production and the enabling environment; TechnoServe leads the processing component; the ACA leads activities related to the marketing of cashews; and FMS leads interventions in all three areas targeted at integrating farmers into specialty markets."[19]

The structure consists of an overall coordinator and managers for each of the implementing partners; this is applied to the regional office and then replicated in the five project country offices. In addition, there is a directive committee in place to guide the strategic direction of the initiative. “To provide strategic guidance, and oversee overall progress of the ACi, a steering committee is in place with representatives from all implementing partners and national government and business organisations. Strategic decisions are made by the core partners contributing more than USD1m each."[20]


The involvement of such large institutions in the development of this initiative made it accountable to very formal monitoring procedures in order to comply with the transparency requirements of the different partners.

From the beginning of the initiative, the involvement of the BMGF and its grant structure introduced changes in the ACi coalition. Grants required that half of the overall project cost be funded by private and public partners, which led to a need for thorough measurement and the proactive participation of partners. “The BMGF's impact measurement focus also provided a welcome incentive for strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Continuous assessment of the return on investment provided helpful internal learning, but also proved challenging and impractical to measure. The creation of appropriate impact measurement metrics and increasing the use of in-house M&E resources became a key outcome of steering committee meetings, aiding in focusing efforts on tangible progress objectives."[21]

It was decided that an external, US-based research company should be in charge of M&E of the ACi's interventions. The company would report to and be subcontracted by GIZ, using grant funds from the BMGF. More specifically, the research company was responsible for:

  • “Monitoring on a regular basis the implementation of project activities to assess whether milestones are met and to steer subsequently the support strategy
  • “Continuously monitoring and evaluating the achievement of ACI objectives, as well as the overall purpose of the project
  • “Assessing the positive and negative impact of the support strategy, especially impact on poverty reduction and gender balance, as well as environmental impacts
  • “Developing a good understanding of the external parameters that influence the cashew production and industry
  • “Identifying and elaborating best practices and lessons learned.”[22]

Similarly, GIZ and other partners maintained their own methodology to keep track of the initiative for internal purposes. "GIZ has complemented external monitoring by using its internal results measurement processes to fulfil obligations vis-à-vis BMZ and to foster internal institutional learning; similarly, the other implementing partners had their own monitoring processes and thus reported their results to the M&E firm."[23]


There was strong collaborationbetween the different international organisations involved in this programme, as well as between them and the private sector partners and the local participants at grassroots level.

The ACi constituted an innovative multi‐stakeholder partnership in development cooperation, becoming a successful example of collaboration access international, private and civil organisations. “GIZ has been commissioned with the management of the project and the facilitation of cooperation among competitive private partners. European, Asian, US and African companies, all members of the ACA, contribute their resources and expertise as partners. Their contributions are supplemented by BMZ.”[24]

This framework allowed the ACi to benefit from the diverse commercial and technical expertise of both private and public sector partners. The contribution from the private sector was critical for success. "The ACA has facilitated the establishment of new cashew processing factories in the region, including the largest cashew factory in Africa. In collaboration with the world's largest cashew buyers - Kraft Foods, Intersnack, and Red River Foods - ACA developed the ACA Quality and Sustainability Seal programme to assure compliance with international food safety, quality, and labour standards. The ACA Seal programme has provided an opportunity to grow demand on the international market for cashews processed in Africa.”[25]

Finally, at the local farm level, there was good engagement to provide technical assistance and market support. “A number of national and international NGOs and donors were and still are active in the sector at the farmers' level, organising technical assistance to smallholders, promoting producers' organisations and trying to improve market linkages and income from cashew production."[26]

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