- India consumes the most cashew worldwide and ranks second in cashew production globally.
- However, in the last few years, the productivity of cashew has been affected owing to multiple reasons including unseasonal rain, extreme weather conditions among others.
- Farmers say they are also suffering losses owing to reduced import duty on the cashew nut.
Harishchandra Desai, a farmer from Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, has 1,100 cashew trees. But, only a few have yielded fruit this season. The 65-year-old belongs to the Zapade village of the Lanja taluka. He estimates around 70% decrease in cashew production from his trees this year.
Other farmers in the region are experiencing a similar situation and are facing economic loss. They attribute the low yield to changing weather conditions, crop disease and pests.
Desai lives in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, which is known for its cashew cultivation. It is also the main source of livelihood for people from Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad districts in this coastal region. However, in the last few years, the production of cashew has been affected owing to multiple reasons. “Rounds of unseasonal rain during flowering makes it difficult for the flowers to bloom,” Desai says, in conversation with Mongabay-India. He adds that many farmers in Lanja now do not receive yields from any tree, as Konkan has been witnessing changing weather conditions over the last few years.
In India, the production of cashews is linked to the livelihood of 1.5 million people, including over 500,000 (five lakh) farmers. Maharashtra is the largest cashew-producing state in India.
B.N. Sawant, Executive Director at the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Vengurla, Sindhudurg, attributes the fall in cashew production to unseasonal rain and below-normal temperatures. “This time, Konkan received rain between October to January. For cashews, this is the time of flowering and fruit formation. Pollination could not take place due to the rain, so fruit-setting did not happen,” Sawant tells Mongabay-India. “Secondly, between December and January, the temperature went below 17 degrees Celsius for a few days, resulting in more damages.”
Like Desai, another farmer, Prakash Toraskar, too has suffered losses, and blames it on the changing climate. Toraskar hails from the coastal Sindhudurg district, also in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, and 100 kilometres from Desai’s village. Toraskar, who has 1,000 cashew trees, says, “Last year, I had eight tonnes of cashew nuts (raw cashew). This year, I could get only 2.5 tonnes, which led to an 80% loss in my income.”
R.C. Gajbhiye, a scientist at the Regional Agricultural Research Station, says there indeed have been rapid temperature changes over the last decade. “Cashews require a minimum temperature between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius and a maximum temperature of 26 to 28 degrees Celsius. In the first peak period, the temperature in the coastal region does not go below 15 degrees Celsius, but this time it did,” Gajbhiye says, adding that there was a huge difference between the minimum and maximum temperature owing to which, the flower got scorched, and hence, there was less production.
India’s high cashew production and consumption
Cashew is cultivated in 19 states of India, which occupies the second place in terms of cashew production and first in consumption, worldwide. Raw cashew production in India for 2020-21 was 6,91,000 tonne and in 2019-20 was 7,42,000 tonne. Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha are prominent states where cashews are cultivated.
According to the first advance estimate of area and production of horticulture crops 2021-22, by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, the area and production of cashew has increased over the past few years. In 2021-22, cashews were cultivated over an area of 1.16 million hectares (1,166,000 ha). The production was estimated at 774,000 metric tonnes. In 2020-21, 738,000 metric tonnes cashews was produced in 1.15 million hectares (1,159,000 ha), while in 2019-20, 703,000 metric tonnes cashews was produced in 1.12 million hectares (1,125,000 ha). However, the productivity (yield per hectare) has in fact decreased.
Venkatesh Hubballi, Director of the Cashew and Coconut Development Institute, in Kerala’s Cochin city, told Mongabay-India, “There is a 25% decline in production of cashew nuts across the country, not just Maharashtra,” he estimates, though official data on decline of production of cashew in Maharashtra is not available. “The main reason for this has been unseasonal rain. Farmers suffer losses if adverse climatic conditions exist between November and January. Below 17 degrees Celsius temperatures are also favourable for the tea mosquito (a cashew pest), further affecting production.”
According to scientists that Mongabay-India spoke to, cashew is a ‘hardy crop’, as it easily bears seasonal burns. However, unseasonal rains are its worst enemy, which has been more frequent in the last few years, including coastal areas of Maharashtra.
Unseasonal rainfall, cyclones add on to pest woes
Mahesh Dinkar Sawant, a farmer, hailing from Sindhudurg district, says that the climate in the Konkan region has changed a lot over the years. “In Konkan, rain would start after June 15. Now, it starts in May. I was already troubled by pests, as it was affecting production, but now, nature is also creating havoc.”
Sawant has trained many other farmers on climate-friendly natural farming. However, rising temperature are causing cashew flowers to dry up and posing as a challenge. “A tree should produce at least 10 kg cashews, but now, we barely get two kg,” he says, adding that the size of cashews, too, have reduced.
In addition, over the years, cyclones such as Tauktae, Gulab, Shaheen, and Nisarga have impacted cashew farming in coastal areas. Ecology expert Madhav Gadgil told Mongabay-India that western shores in the Arabian Sea have never witnessed such intensive and speedy cyclones, owing to which the sea temperature has risen and subsequently brought about many changes.
According to data from the Directorate of Cashew Research, even though the area and production (total yield) of cashews have increased in India, the productivity (yield per hectare) has decreased in the last few years.
The Directorate of Cashew and Cocoa Development, Kerala in its 2019-20 annual report said that India has 4,000 cashew processing units in the organised and unorganised sectors, with an annual capacity of 17 lakh metric tonnes of raw cashew. Hence, to meet the domestic demand, India imports 54% of its raw materials from African countries.
According to International Nut and Dried Fruit Council records, in the last five years, India stands at a number two position with 1,82,642 metric tonnes of cashew kernel production. India’s cashew production is 22% of the world’s production. African countries rank first with 3,71,196 metric tonnes of cashew kernel production, and their share of global production is 45%.
Policies need to be revisited
Farmers say that apart from unfavourable weather conditions, they are also suffering losses owing to reduced import duty on cashew nuts.
Desai says that earlier, there was 12% import duty on cashew nut coming from abroad, which was reduced to 2.5%. “Due to this, half of the cashew nuts that come from African countries, cost the processing units Rs. 60 to Rs. 75 whereas, the cashew of a native farmer costs Rs. 100 to Rs. 125 a kg,” Desai adds. “Earlier, we would get Rs. 120 to Rs. 150 a kg for our cashew nuts. Now, we only get Rs. 100 to Rs. 120 per kg. This does not help us cover even our production cost.”
Owing to lack of benefits, only a few farmers are planting new orchards in Ratnagiri and other districts of Konkan.
Usa Toraskar, who runs a cashew processing unit in Sindhudurg, tells Mongabay-India that it’s not only the farmers who are at a loss, but also the small industries. “Konkan cashews are good quality, but traders prefer cashew coming from outside, as it is a cheaper option and they get it for Rs. 60 to Rs. 80.”
Export of cashew nuts has also declined in the country. According to the data from the Directorate of Cashew and Coconut, the export of cashew nuts decreased from 67,647 metric tonnes in 2019-20, valued at Rs. 2,867 crore, down to 48,575 metric tonnes in 2020-21, valued at Rs 2,840.39 crores.
Read more: Lessons from a farmer who switched to organic sugarcane farming
Banner image: A worker collecting cashew nut in Ratnagiri. Photo by Arvind Shukla.