USDA Delegation Visits IRD Cashew Project in The Gambia
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials visiting The Gambia from Washington DC this July got a first-hand view of the vast potential of cashew in the SeneGambia region. The senior-level delegation was there to learn about IRD’s initiative to increase the incomes of rural Senegalese and Gambians involved in the cashew value chain.
The USDA delegation, Roger Mireles (left), Joani Dong (center), and Pauline Simmons (right), visit the Dimbel Djobot Cashew Processing Unit in Mendy Kunda, The Gambia.
Leading the delegation was Roger Mireles, assistant deputy administrator of the Office of Capacity Building and Development (OCBD) at USDA’s lead overseas agency, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). He marveled at the sight of the cashew fruit with its comma-shaped “drupe” that houses the cashew “nut” as he strolled through the plantation. It was filled with different varieties of cashew trees whose cashew “apples” ranged from yellow to pink to bright red. Pauline Simmons, USDA’s policy coordinator for Africa was familiar with cashew (it is grown in her native Ghana), but she, too, was impressed with the range of activities conducted under the Gambia River Basin Cashew Value Chain Enhancement Project, or CEP, which is funded under a USDA Food for Progress grant.
The Group Dimbel Djobot Cashew Processing Team pose with the USDA and IRD delegation in front of steaming equipment provided by IRD in Gambia and Senegal.
The third member of the team was Joani Dong, the USDA regional agricultural attaché covering West Africa. To her delight, early plans to develop a cashew processing center in this small town of Fass Njaga Choi in the North River Region of The Gambia were realized since her visit in April 2011. The local women’s group purchased the land and erected all the necessary structures as their contribution for a new cashew processing center. With equipment provided by the USDA, IRD’s training and expertise, and coordination from the USAID-funded African Cashew Alliance, Dong exclaimed, “They really did it!”
The delegation visited multiple project sites to observe cashew production, tree nurseries, beekeeping operations, cashew apple drying and apple juice production, and the full range of activities involved in improved cashew nut processing.
Cashew nuts from this region are renowned for their good size, easy-to-peel shape, and sweet taste. With the premium paid for these nuts on the world market, IRD and USDA are working together – along with other US agencies such as the Peace Corps – to promote better organization of cashew farmers, understanding of the cashew value chain, and the importance of running cashew plantations as businesses.
After a day of site visits, the team was treated to a lunch of cashew nut stew. This dish is traditionally made with peanuts; however, this stew, served over rice, demonstrated how tasty and adaptable cashew is to local diets. Of great interest to the visitors was learning how fresh cashew apple is being dried using basic solar driers provided by IRD and USDA, transforming them into a healthy snack food. With presses provided by the project, the fresh apple is also squeezed to make fresh juice or further processed into wine or spirits. By expanding production of value-added products, farmers can increase their incomes as well as improve the nutritional choices for their families.
USDA recently awarded IRD the opportunity to expand the program to additional regions of SeneGambia, expand production using the best cashew varieties found in the region, and promote cashew apple, cashew nut processing, and marketing. “CEP 2,” as the project will be called, is expected to start in late 2012 and will run through 2015.