We are happy to announce that Alphonsa Cashew Industries has become a participant of the Sustainable Nut Initiative (SNI). SNI brings key players in the nut industry together to strategically develop sustainable supply chains and a traceable nut sector. SNI’s participants are committed to improve the transparency in the nut chain, strengthening the relationship with farmer cooperatives and working towards volume and quality improvement. We talked to Ebin Babu Oommen, Director of Alphonsa Cashew Industries, about their motivation to join SNI.

Alphonsa Cashew Industries is one of the largest procurer, processor and exporter of Cashew Nuts based in India. We have ownership or active engagement in all stages of the cashew value chain starting from procurement at the farm-gate level from 6 origins in Africa to in-house processing in 13 processing facilities in India and distribution to over 300 customers spread across 43 countries worldwide. Alphonsa Cashew Industries is part of the family business that was started by Oommen Geevarghese in 1958. Babu Oommen, the eldest son of Geevarghese, branched out to start Alphonsa Cashew Industries as an independent company. Being part of a family business that has been operating for over 60 years, a long-term perspective and a strong set of values are part of our core identity and have been crucial to our journey so far.

Why do you think an Initiative like SNI is important?

Food production is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the primary contributor to ecosystem destruction and biodiversity loss. By 2050, it’s estimated that the global population will have risen to 10 billion, placing an even greater strain on the planet’s food production systems. Two-year research efforts of an EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets and sustainable food systems just concluded that it would be impossible to put a brake on current climate change and biodiversity loss trends unless drastic dietary changes are made. It found that the consumption of unhealthy foods, particularly red meats, must be reduced by at least 50%. Simultaneously, a significant dietary shift towards other protein sources like nuts, fruits and vegetables must increase by more than 100%, all whilst completely stopping any further expansion of agricultural lands.

We believe an initiative like SNI could bring industry players together on a pre-completive platform to bring about sustainable solutions that can catalyse this dietary shift to a great extent and also help the industry reap the benefits from this paradigm shift.

Why did Alphonsa join SNI?

We realise the importance of reaching beyond our internal boundaries to a variety of external stakeholders for embedding sustainability principles into our business core and consider sustainability and responsibility as key enablers of our overall business strategy. Sustainability can be unlocked only through robust partnerships. We have been using cross-sector partnerships to address sustainability issues across our value chain and felt we needed to be part of a forum that is exclusive to the cashew industry reflecting the reality that we cannot achieve our sustainability objectives without widespread support and cooperation. We recently announced the deployment of our Farmer Management System (FMS) in Ghana, that will later be deployed across all sourcing origins. We believe this will be a revolutionary step towards developing fully transparent and traceable sourcing networks and will help us in empowering the first-mile actors. To take this one step forward, we would need collaboration with various actors in the cashew value chain, and we believe this can be achieved through our participation in the Sustainability Nut Initiative.

What is the main challenge for Alphonsa Cashew Industries?

One of the major challenges we face today is the lack of stakeholder engagement. Buyers’ and Retailers’ often fail to see value in investing in building a sustainable cashew supply network. To embed sustainability into the cashew value chain, all the actors need to come together and support each other. A single company cannot be expected to fight alone against the problematic labour or environmental practices of the global cashew supply chain. Only a cohesive effort will truly result in a sustainable and responsible value chain.

What SNI can bring to tackle this challenge?

SNI can bring together various supply chain actors at different stages of the cashew value chain together on a pre-competitive platform and work towards sustainable solutions for the betterment of the industry stakeholders. A cross-sector organisation like SNI could develop and disseminate industrywide sustainability standards because collaborative initiatives have many benefits. They can increase efficiencies for global supply chain actors, who can use a standardised self-assessment or audit to satisfy many customers rather than comply with a dozen different sustainability frameworks developed by individual companies. This makes it economically feasible for companies to embed sustainability principles into their business process.

What is your expectation of SNI?

SNI, which currently focuses on the cashew industry, is better equipped to drive sustainable growth in this industry. The strategic value of any sustainability initiative comes from the need to continually talk with and learn from key stakeholders that are spread across the cashew value chain, and we believe SNI is the perfect platform in bringing the various supply chain actors together and developing solutions for a sustainable and responsible cashew industry.