GUINEA-BISSAU: Cashew crops rot as prices plummet
DAKAR, 15 November (IRIN) - Piles of cashew nuts painstakingly picked by Guinea-Bissauan farmers to sell for cash are going unsold, and the poorest are being hardest hit as the bottom falls out of the market for the product, aid agencies warn.
Guinea-Bissau, a poor West African country where most people are farmers and some 85 percent of the population rely on growing cashew nuts for at least part of their income, has been roiled by decades of conflict and political instability since winning independence from Portugal in 1974.
Surveying by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in 2005 deemed over 30 percent of the country's 1.4 million people "very vulnerable" to food shortages.
Tons of cashew nuts from Guinea-Bissau are usually bought for cash from poor farmers every year by traders who ship the nuts to India for processing before reselling them on the world market for a healthy profit.
But as global consumption of cashews has declined, especially in the United States where food market analysts say health scares and nut allergies have cut demand, the market has slumped.
Guinea-Bissau's government has set a price that traders fume is artificially high at 350 CFA (US $.70) per kg of nuts.
Non-official prices in Guinea-Bissau and in the countryside see traders shelling out closer to 100 (US $.20) or even 50 CFA (US $.10) per kg, agricultural development officials told IRIN.
In real terms, that means whereas one kg of nuts used to buy a straight swap of one kg of rice, now it takes four kg of nuts to get the same rice. In Britain, a kg of organic cashew nuts sells for about US $30.
Jose Peter Ita-Gros, the WFP representative in Guinea-Bissau, warned there has been a "deterioration" in the nutritional situation in the country.
"We can confirm that there was a deterioration of the nutritional situation especially among children under five," he said.
The results of nutritional surveying by WFP and the UN children's agency (UNICEF) will be released in December, but WFP officials said they already know Guinea-Bissau exceeds the emergency thresholds for acute and chronic malnutrition.
Floods last year in Guinea-Bissau's rice-growing southern region ruined 85 percent of rice paddies. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has repeatedly warned that Guinea-Bissau is on the brink of an agricultural crisis.
At a roundtable meeting between Guinea-Bissau's government and its traditional donors, the European Union, Spain, Portugal, and Japan, in Geneva earlier this month, Guinea-Bissau requested US $460 million to move ahead with poverty reduction and security sector reforms.
Prime Minister Aristides Gomes said in an interview with a Portuguese newspaper published on Wednesday that donors had stumped up $266 million.