Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cashew Nuts and Fruits

By Dexter B. Dombro
One year old cashew tree.
One of the biggest concerns for investors in reforestation projects is the long time it takes for trees to be ready to harvest. Ten to twenty years without cash flow is a very scary proposition for most people.  One solution is agroforestry, with cash flow crops planted inside the tree plantation, or to raise sheep, which can feed and fertilize around the trees. Another option is to plant fruit trees that offer some cash flow.  It is this latter option that offers some amazing opportunities to tropical tree plantation owners.  Specifically, let me talk about the opportunities that come from the cultivation of cashew trees (Anacardium occidentale).

3 year old cashew trees. Note the spacing.
The cashew tree is native to the Orinoco River basin, perfectly adapted to poor acidic soils, high rainfall (above 2,000 mm or 79” a year), a dry season with no or little rain, and open savannah conditions with intense sunshine when first planted. Cashew trees are now cultivated in many equatorial regions of the world, such as India, Mozambique and Brazil. At Amazonia Reforestation in Vichada, Colombia, they plant cashew trees that have been grafted, using local roots, but enhanced fruit bearing stems. The cultivation is usually done in grids of 12m by 12m or 40’ by 40’, resulting in approximately 60 trees per hectare (25 trees per acre). The trees naturally develop an umbrella shaped canopy that radiates some 6 meters or 20’ around from the tree trunk, hence the spacing. It allows the tree to bear a maximum amount of fruits and therefore nuts, and makes picking of the fruits and nuts easier.

Two year old cashew tree.
As with any tree in poor soils, the addition of organic material, such as cattle or chicken manure or compost will greatly enhance fruit production. In Colombia’s plains the addition of coffee plantation fertilizer (17-6-18-2) has been found to work well. While the tree is not a fast growing tree, it starts producing fruit after its third year, and by year five is considered to be producing at a commercial rate. Commercial plantations expect to have 35 years of good productivity before production declines, and the trees need to be replaced.

Nut and fruit form soon after flowering.
Production will average 1 ton of cashew nuts per hectare for 35 years. The world price for cashew nuts ranges between $7,000 USD to $8,000 USD per metric ton FOB plantation gate. A plantation with 100 hectares of cashew trees in marginal soils can therefore look forward to some $750,000 USD in annual cash flow just from the nuts. But it gets better! Each nut grows on the end of the cashew fruit. The fruits have a gross weight that on average is 8 times greater than the nut. That means there is 8 tons of fruit per hectare. The fruit can be processed as pulp for juices, as dried fruit or as an extract for natural cough syrups.

Typical fruit with nut at end.
The fruit juice has 5 times more vitamin C per glass than does orange juice (262 mg of Vitamin C per 100 ml of juice), and the pulp has ready markets for industrial and medicinal uses. If that isn’t of interest to you, the fruit can also be fermented into a wine, or distilled into liquor (feni) that is popular in places like India, where demand for feni greatly exceeds available supply. There are other uses for the tree, not the least of it being the eventual harvest and sale of the timber once it has used up its productive life and the tree needs to be replanted. This should give the reader an idea of just one example of the many possible cash flow solutions that exist in tropical forestry settings. At Amazonia Reforestation and CO2 Tropical Trees this is also a socio-economic development process that offers local people opportunities.