G-Bissau cashew harvest in jeopardy

2012-04-23 09:15

Farim - Guinea-Bissau was due a bumper cashew harvest this year but prices have halved as money dries up after a coup d’état, raising anxiety among those who survive off the country's main export.

While plantation owners are struggling to sell their nuts in a near-paralysed market, their lives have been further complicated by the arrival of those who fled the capital fearing violence after the 12 April government overthrow.

Jose Mahalhaes who heads a local NGO in Farim, 110km north of Bissau, said over one thousand people have landed on their relatives' doorsteps in this village, in the heart of cashew land.

"Some families of about a dozen now count about 40 people and don't have enough to feed themselves," he told AFP.

Mamadi Camara has been an agricultural technician for 20 years in Farim, but with his salary barely lasting a week, it is the money he earns from his cashew plantation which allows this father of 12 to get by.

"Luckily I have my cashew plantation which allows me to make ends meet, especially when the harvest is good," he said bitterly, pointing out his bustling family as they prepare to go to harvest.

Under a scorching sun, the whole Camara clan sets to work as in an assembly line in a factory.

Buckets in hand the children gather cashew apples which the wind blows to the ground. The women separate the nut from the apple which is pressed for its juice.

Serious jeopardy

"The harvest will be excellent," says Camara.

But he still needs to sell the nuts, and with banks and money transfer agencies closed since the coup d’état, buyers are rare and the marketing of the precious nuts is in serious jeopardy.

Three kilometres from Farim, in a village called Kapa 3, a group of Mauritanian traders lament the situation over a cup of tea, listening to a Nouakchott radio station.

"We have been here for nearly a month, look at our stock, not even three tons. Whereas usually, after a month I have passed 50 tons," says Mohamed Assane.

No banks means no money which means, no cashews.

"We don't want to keep money on us because the country is not stable. There is a coup d'etat and money is afraid of the sound of weapons," the trader explains.

"We buy small quantities, up to 10kg in cash. When it is 100kg or more we prefer to barter. Rice, or zinc or any other product for the nuts."

At the beginning of April the state fixed a preferential price for producers at 250 CFA francs (30c) per kilogramme. Ten days after the coup, this price is no longer respected and a kilo goes for between 100 and 150 CFA.

Bartering has gone the same way.

If rice and cashews were exchanged at the same weight before the putsch, now you need two kilos of cashews to get a kilo of rice.

Cocaine trafficking

"We don't have a choice, I have a family who need to eat," says a farmer who came to offer Mohamed Assane 50kg of cashews.

While the west African nation is better known as a failed state crippled by cocaine trafficking to Europe, its unprocessed cashews are its main earner, most of them exported to bolster the world's top producer of the nut, India.

In the nation of 1.6 million people, the industry employs 250 000 families, according to official figures.

Exports hit a high of 170 000 tons in 2011, earning the government $100m.