"Fruits of the rich on the fields of the poor" – that’s a local Tanzanian description of cashew nuts. While they are an expensive delicacy in our shops, producers in the Masasi district in southern Tanzania live below the poverty line. Drought and the global financial crisis are depressing the profits alongside new pests and diseases. Pesticides and fertilisers are – if at all available – simply unaffordable for these small farmers: they frequently have less than one Swiss franc per day to feed a six-person household.
But the farmers have also realized that they have the power to change the situation. Six villages formed a syndicate and founded a non-profit organisation called "Masasi High Quality Farmers’ Products (MHQFP)". Their aim is to buy pesticides and fertilisers in bulk and find their own sales markets. "Small farmers are especially sold short by the middlemen", explains Machiel Spuij, the current manager of the organisation. They are forced to sell the nuts immediately after the harvest – regardless of the price.
About 1,000 farmers from eight villages are now members and simultaneously owners of the MHQFP. This is listed as a private company but organised like a cooperative. With funding from foreign loans, last year the farmers even opened a factory where the nuts are shelled and sorted. Spuij emphasises how, “The farmers are taking a proactive role in the value-added chain”. The product is then directly sold to a wholesaler without any middleman, and only when prices are at their peak.
Cashew nuts have been cultivated in Masasi for about 70 years. The fathers and grandfathers of today’s farmers were able to harvest cashew nuts without much effort, hardly worrying about the trees, so no special expertise was required. Pests, poor soil quality and disease now demand new cultivation methods and many plantations are too old and yield low returns. The MHQFP supports organic cultivation methods. This is because costs of sulphur to combat pests are considerably lower than for conventional cultivation methods.
The farmers themselves can fund short-term demands on their income – thanks also to the loans. These farmers depend on SWISSAID’s support for their future investments. In practical terms, this means funding for the tree nurseries where the seedlings are cultivated and agricultural colleges where organic cultivation methods are taught. Farmers meet here for one season to work, observe the plants, experiment, discuss and learn. 250 farmers have already completed training in organic farming. Sometimes, external experts are their instructors. However, the farmers themselves are usually trainers, having first completed an instructor’s training course. In keeping with the cooperative philosophy, they are not paid a salary but are compensated for loss of income.
One objective of the non-profit organisation has been achieved: boosting revenue. But Spuij has higher aims in mind – a 300% increase in the value of cashew nuts. This is partly achieved by processing in the factory. The market decides the rest. The farmers have their sights set on the European market with Fairtrade organic cashew nuts.
The MHQFP already has its Fairtrade International certificate and is a Tanzanian organic label. An international label is under application. Masasi High Quality Farmers’ Products hopes to stand on its own feet by 2014. As the management, which is recruited from the members, still lacks a professional approach, SWISSAID is facilitating advanced training. The MHQFP would like to expand further. Neighbouring farmers are already interested in organic cultivation methods. The cooperative is also open to those who do not yet have cashew trees: any new recruit in one of these eight villages can obtain a plot of land and seedlings and become a cooperative member. This project also helps the poorest among the population.
Project code: TA 2/11/09
Partnerorganisation Masasi High Quality Farmers' Products
Costs: 57'000 Fr.
Beneficiaries: 1130 farmer families
The project is running until 2012