In spite of best efforts by Central and State Govts to enhance area under cashew cultivation and introduction of advanced farming techniques to increase indigenous product, import of Raw Cashew Nuts (RCN) have been growing year after year.
During April-February 2009-10, import of RCN stood at 7,26,095 tonnes against 5,89,299 tonnes during corresponding period of previous year while domestic production remained almost stagnant at around 6.5 lakh tonnes for last few years.
Riding on strong domestic demand growth, stagnant domestic production and lackluster export - import of cashew nuts is growing at steady pace. While processing capacity of the industry is estimated to be around 12 lakh tonnes a year, stagnant production of around 6.5 lakh tonnes is encouraging traders to import raw cashew nuts, get these processed and sell at much higher price.
Imports of huge quantities of raw nuts often deprive Indian growers of good prices, making the crop unattractive. Increasing the indigenous production is the only solution to this problem and that appears to be possible only through scientific and systematic methods to bring more areas under the crop, apart from growing high yielding varieties.
Cashew ranks second in agriculture and horticulture commodities exported from India. India is the largest producer, processor and exporter of cashew kernels. It is roughly estimated that this sector provides sustainable employment to one million people, mostly rural women folk. The country is earning Rs 2,500 crore through export of cashew kernels yearly.
According to latest figures for 2009-10, India has produced 6.89 lakh tonnes of raw nut from an area of 8.93 lakh hectare. The productivity is hovering around 825 kg/ha. There are about 1,500 processing units in the organised sector. The average earnings per kg from exports during the current fiscal is Rs 275 a kg.
Realising the importance of this cash crop, the Central Planning Commission had approved the setting up of a Board for cashew. Also, considering the importance of cashew as a major employment provider to the rural poor and utilisation of vast stretches of waste lands in the country, a Committee of Ministers is said to have agreed to set up a cashew development board aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in production, taking research findings to the farmers' field and improving quality of products, processing, marketing and exports.
A private bill suggesting setting up of a cashew board was also presented in the Parliament early last year. But nothing came of it. India has 24 per cent of the global area under cashew but contributes only 19 per cent of global production. Whereas, Vietnam with 10 per cent of the global area contributes an average yield of 2.8 tonne per hectare as against India's around 800 kg.
Timely supply of planting materials, finance and extension services are vital apart from ensuring a remunerative price for the raw nuts. The importance of cashew cultivation acquires significance following the acceptance of cashew apple as a main source for production of ethanol by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. This move is soon expected to substantially increase the demand for cashew apple.