SNI creates powerful coalitions with programs and initiatives with a similar goal. To scale up impact in the cashew sector, SNI intensified its cooperation with ComCashew in 2018. SNI’s cooperation with ComCashew will result in better access to funds, a broader uptake of the traceability software amongst companies in the nut chain, and harmonization of data.
SNI talked to ComCashew Director Production for GIZ Florian Winckler about the renewed cooperation.
What do you consider to be the strength of SNI?
To me, the strength of SNI is that it brings together a group of key players in the industry with a manifest desire to strategically develop sustainable supply chains and a healthy cashew sector. Since we have been engaging with the founding members of SNI in the context of ComCashew for a long time, we know that the development of the sector is something these companies see as part of their core business. I believe, sustainability approaches become non-sustainable in themselves if they are not tied to the core business of the ones involved. SNI is an initiative coming out of the industry from the deep seated commitment that the sector needs to be developed in a sustainable way.
Which activities, tools or lessons of SNI are worth building onto?
I believe the joined development of the traceability system is an important tool to build upon. Currently, it is especially used as a management tool that will help companies in the chain make informed decisions with regards to their suppliers. The use of a management system like 3S allows companies to determine origin, register and monitor certain quality parameters of the raw materials and react on behalf of this data. This allows them to see where the bulk of the good quality is coming from and where the shortcomings are.
SNI and ComCashew will jointly continue on this path and further develop the traceability aspect, from farmer to shelf. When full traceability can be established along the African cashew chain, this is a potential unique selling point. Ideally, one would be able to communicate about the origin and sustainability of the product to the end consumer.
What do you think should be changed or improved for SNI to be more future-proof?
The initial core group that set SNI up has invested a lot and learned even more. In order to make the next step, we should take these learnings, widen the group of companies and create critical mass. We have to involve the entire value chain, producers, roasters, processors, retailers. Where SNI has operated quietly thus far, I also believe we have to start communicating the merits of this approach. There is a growing desire of end to know where their product is coming from and I know the cashew industry has a lot of interesting stories to tell to them. But it has to be based on reliable data as well. We have to stay away from window dressing.
What is the main reason for ComCashew to strengthen ties with SNI?
I think that SNI is serving as a sounding board between us -from the public side- and the private sector. SNI becomes a reflecting mirror, so to say. A two-sided mirror. The closer cooperation gives us the opportunity to constantly exchange ideas and reassess our own interventions. But it works the other way around as well. We also hold this mirror against the questions and practices of the private sector. Based on the believe and understanding that all parties are headed in the same direction, our closer cooperation gives us a platform for reflection.
What are the main challenges in the cashew sector and how will they be addressed by this new consortium?
There are three big challenges: the yield gap in production, the competitiveness gap in processing and the sometimes complex regulatory reality in the cashew producing countries. The new consortium can and will work on all of them.
On the production side we need to increase yield and bridge the yield gap that currently exists between Africa and other countries. When SNI provides access to markets that demand a higher quality, it can provide the incentive for farmers to professionalise. The traceability system can play a role here as well, by collecting data, customizing training efforts and strengthening the relation between producers and processors. Evidentially this needs to be accompanied by other technical measures such as farmer training, provision of high-yielding planting material and research.
Currently a relatively low percentage of raw cashew nuts is processed in Africa. Causing Africa to be missing out on a huge potential for job creation, especially for women in rural areas. Increasing the percentage of RCN that is being processed in Africa is a game changer for the sector. For us as ComCashew this is a crucial aspect, where we would be seeking a clear commitment from the private sector actors and would like to focus on with SNI. In order to build up the processing industry, it needs to become competitive. One of the aspects to value a product of African origin more, is to put an emphasis on sustainability and traceability. I believe, these aspects will put a higher value on the African product and will be one of the elements that reduce the competitiveness gap that exists for African processing today.
The last challenge is the creation of a favouring legislative framework for this industry. That is why the policy dialogue regarding cashew is high on the agenda of ComCashew. More and more, cashew producing countries in Africa are coming up with joint policies that harmonise their interests. I really think that a regularity frameworks that is not limiting business but benefiting local small and mediums sized enterprises, will result in more revenues for the producing countries.
What will be the effect of this increased cooperation for the farmers and the workers?
In the end, farmers will have more money in the pocket through higher yields or lower costs and a better access to processors. Through the creation of a competitive and flourishing processing industry in Africa, more jobs are being created on the production side as well on the processing side. Ideally, public revenues from the cashew sector (e.g. taxes paid) are brought back to the sector to continue its development. In the end, the consumer in for instance Europe, United States or India, will have access to a better product knowing that he or she will contribute to the development of Africa.
How will SNI members benefit?
Processors have access to a system that will help them guide their management decisions in a better way. They will be able to identify farmers from which they will get a better quality, customize training efforts and lower transaction costs. This means better margins, and hence more money in the pocket. Retailers can be sure that a high quality and sustainable product is reaching them and that the reputational risks that are going with it are being mitigated.
What has the coalition achieved in 5-10 years?
SNI will be the international reference for sustainable cashew. All relevant players are on board. The frontrunners of all important international players are involved and the initiative has reached critical mass. There is a spirit of continuous improvement, setting the bar higher and higher. I can only hope that the persons involved in the future remain as visionary, so we can ensure the sustainable development of the sector.
For more info about ComCashew: http://www.africancashewinitiative.org/