Originally published by USAID
Growing up in farming families in northern Côte d’Ivoire, childhood friends Coulibaly Zana Sina and Justin Ake Koffi remember when cashew trees were worth so little that they used them to fence their fields growing more profitable crops like mango and maize.
In the 1990s, traders from France and then from India began visiting their farms to buy cashew and ship it to processors in India. In 2007, Sina and Koffi joined two other farming families to form a cooperative for aggregating cashew and other crops. In 2014, they focused on cashew, founding the Société Coopérative d’Anacarde du Kafigue (SCAK), named for the small northern town in Côte d’Ivoire where they are based.
The cooperative ships 20,000 tons of raw cashew nuts a year to India and Vietnam, and is one of several Ivorian companies and cooperatives that have made the country the world’s largest raw cashew nut exporter.
SCAK has quickly built a reputation as a worthy broker, expanding its supplier network far beyond its 300 formally contracted cashew farmers. The cooperative offers free inputs like insecticide at the beginning of the cashew season, gives advances to farmers in need, and shares windfalls at the end of the season with all its suppliers—in addition to throwing a big end-of-season party.
Koffi says the families’ farming backgrounds guide their dealings with farmers and their product standards. Yet SCAK was still constrained by its only source for working capital: Indian buyers who set prices a full year before the next harvest—and kept them there, even if the market price rose dramatically.
The cooperative tried and failed to get bank financing to make their raw cashew nut purchases. In 2016, they approached USAID’s West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, which teamed them with its finance and investment specialist to get their loan request in order and set up business processes. SCAK began tracking its expenses, formalizing its procedures (such as registering minutes of its general assembly meetings), and hired a second accountant to monitor monetary flows.
“We’re not bankers. We have the mindset of farmers. The financial adviser brought in the know-how for business planning, the professionalism,” said Sina.
In late 2016 and early 2017, two Ivorian banks approved a total of $2.8 million in export working capital for SCAK, their first successful commercial loans. With its new credit profile, SCAK plans to invest in a cashew processing factory in 2018, which would require an additional $6 million in long-term financing and create up to 350 new jobs.
USAID’s West Africa Trade and Investment Hub was established in March 2014 to boost trade with and within West Africa. By the end of June 2017, the Trade Hub had helped West African farmers and firms to achieve more than $133 million in new sales and $57 million in private sector investment as well as to create more than 15,000 new jobs.
Banyan Global is a subcontractor to Abt Associates on the West Africa Trade Hub Project.