Guinea-Bissau’s cashew farmers survive tough times

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Cashew nuts are Guinea-Bissau's biggest export crop but times are tough for farmers, as photojournalist Ricci Shryock reports.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Alciony Fernandez is from a family of cashew growers and has carried their latest batch to be weighed and sold at a shop 30 minutes away, in the outskirts of the capital Bissau.

The nuts will fetch a price of 350 CFA francs per kilo ($0.65; £0.45), the 14-year-old says.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Government-set prices for the crop have been slashed by close to a third since last year, after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the supply chain.

Since the start of the year, cashew farmers in Guinea-Bissau had also been grappling with a tax for the first time – at 15 CFA francs per kilo.

Exporters and traders said they were struggling to buy cashews because of the extra charge.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

But some reprieve came at the end of last month, when the government removed the farmers' tax – and lowered two other taxes on intermediaries and exporters.

The country usually exports around 200,000 tonnes each year, but this dropped to 160,000 last year. And there are yet more worries as the main buyer, India, is grappling with the Covid-19 crisis, says Mamadou Yerro Djamanca of the Cashew Exporters Association of Guinea-Bissau.

Much of the crop has been sitting in rural areas waiting to be bought and transported, he explains.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Once the rains start, which is usually by late May to mid-June, it becomes extremely difficult to transport the crop along the country's narrow dirt roads as they often flood or just turn into mud.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Neia Nianta has a 1.5 hectare cashew farm just outside Bissau which she harvests each year from March to June. She spends the days working from mid-afternoon until late in the evening.

Cashew wine – made by squeezing the juice from cashew apples then fermenting it – is popular within Guinea-Bissau.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Here Neia sets to work alongside Quinta Cabi. They say they can make around 5,000 CFA francs a day from selling the locally made brew.

"Last year was better – we sold more wine and we sold it at a higher price," she says, adding this was thanks to the coronavirus lockdown.

"The work to press the cashews is very tiring. First we go to the trees, look for the cashews, carry them back, separate the nuts from the fruit – then you start pounding the fruit.

"Sometimes we pound to fill four or five buckets. That makes 25 litres of wine."

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Kumus da Silva prefers to stick to the non-alcoholic version.

"This work is to make cashew juice – because right now there are a lot of cashews, so we are not using them all," he says.

Workers at his small workshop sift out the juice, then put it into stamped bottles before warming them in metal barrels to prevent fermentation.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

The shells have to be removed to make the juice, as Mr Da Silva demonstrates.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

The first year he made cashew juice he did not make a profit. But now, when his company sells it to local restaurants, it makes 500 CFA francs per bottle.

"We need to do marketing, because people don't look for it to buy yet. The challenge is to make people want to drink it – because there is not a lot of demand," Mr Da Silva says.

While cashew products remain popular as ever domestically, Guinea-Bissau's export challenges over the coming weeks will be crucial for the fortunes of farmers' and distributors alike.

image copyrightRicci Shryock

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