Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crisis in Vietnamese Cashew Industry

January 12, 2009

During the latter half of 2008, we published articles on two problems that had severely impacted the world cashew scenario: The increasing defaults by Vietnamese shippers that occurred during the spring and summer, and the disturbing reports of chlorophenol contamination that began surfacing around the same time. The cashew world has been on a virtual roller coaster ride since then, buffeted by the world recession and by industry practices that in some cases have backfired. Both of these articles can be accessed in the Newsroom section of the Cashew Concern website: .

Crisis in Vietnamese Cashew Industry

On June 20th, 2008, we published an article entitled "Unbridled Cashew Speculation - History Lesson 102" warning of the potential fallout from an overheated cashew market fueled by speculation and low price feeding frenzy. A recent article which appeared in VietnamNet Bridge describes the devastating effect that this "perfect storm" has had on the Vietnamese cashew industry. The complete article can be accessed at the following link:

Over the last decade, Vietnam quickly became the largest exporter of cashew kernels in the world, surpassing even India. Unfortunately, instead of healthy, managed growth, many Vietnamese cashew producers opted for the quick money to be had by offering cheaper prices than their global counterparts. Offers were made without a realistic assessment of production capacity. In 2008, as cashew prices soared, they did not deliver under the signed contracts, but sold to others as the price went up, with the intention of fulfilling the contracts later. However, material prices rose sharply, making it impossible to honor the contracts without devastating losses. To make matters worse, demand dropped and cashew prices fell dramatically.

The Vietnamese cashew industry is now in crisis and is scrambling to survive. Reports have begun to surface of Vietnamese cashew splits that have been adhered together with 502 glue in an attempt to disguise them as wholes, a practice that certainly cannot be tolerated.

Vietnamese cashew producers are now seeking help from the Vietnamese government in the form of loans and tax reductions, but it remains to be seen if the industry will be able to recover. Alarmingly, farmers in Vietnam are increasingly giving up on growing cashews in favor of more profitable crops, such as rubber and cocoa.

The speculation that has become rampant in the cashew industry has in the end benefited no one. Vietnam's cashew industry is struggling to survive, American cashew importers hit by the massive wave of defaults sustained significant losses at a time when the economy makes it difficult to absorb such a blow, and American roasters faced historically high prices during a brutal retail season.

Chlorophenol Update

On September 9th, we published an article about the detection of chlorophenol, mostly in cashews exported from India. In order to prevent contamination, guidelines have been established by the Cashew Export Promotion Council of India. The guidelines have been published by the African Cashew Alliance and can be accessed from their website. Alarmingly, however, there have been reports as recently as December 27th of containers being rejected because of chlorophenol contamination, and it is not at all clear that the source of the problem has been identified. An article published in the Indian Express states that the rejected cashews had been tested in India before shipment.

Every Link in the Global Food Chain is Important

Clearly more vigilance is needed. As we move further into the 21st century, better monitoring systems must be put into place, not only to ensure that suppliers follow good manufacturing practices, but also to understand the calibre of suppliers that we work with. Each link in the global food chain is important. We need to build strategic working partnerships between supplier, importer, roaster, retailer and consumer in order to ensure a better overall food product and foster the development of reliable working relationships that have a positive effect on food quality and on our business as a whole.

"An Ounce of Prevention or a Metric Ton of Cure" Peanut and Tree Nut Processors Association Conference - January 17 - 20

David Rosenthal will give a presentation entitled "An Ounce of Prevention or a Metric Ton of Cure - It's Your Choice" at the General Session of the PTNPA Conference, held at Our Lucaya Resort in the Bahamas, on January 18th. The co-host of this session will be Merle Jacobs, president of the American Council for Food Safety and Quality.