Cashew, the superfood of Koulikoro women | On the front line | future planet

The French monk and naturalist André Thevet, whose shape reminded him of an inverted heart (“ana” means upward, and “cardium” heart) gave it its current name.

Mali, a country with a clearly patriarchal society, anchored in the ideas granted by tradition, culture and religion, where women do not have access to land ownership and bank loans, is a clear reflection of the urgent struggle of thousands of women who try to strengthen and improve their food and nutrition security (SAN) and that of their families. For this reason, more than 200 women from the Koulikoro region made the decision to become cashew processors and group themselves into five cooperatives, which ensures them, in addition to decent employment in the agricultural sector, and avoids their exclusion in the economic control of the home and obtain some income that allows them to meet the current expenses of their families and to make small improvements to their homes.

Backed by the Project to Support the Cashew Sector in Mali (PAFAM) that the Spanish Agency for Cooperation has been running since 2016, in the city of Siby, activity in women’s cooperatives is frenetic. We are at the end of March and it is cashew harvest time. Although this is a fruit tree native to northern Brazil, it was the Portuguese discoverers who, in the 16th century, attracted by its multiple nutritional properties – fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins – exported it to India. It was at that time that it was introduced in Southeast Asia and, gradually in the 1960s, in some countries on the African continent, including Mali, where its good adaptation to the environment was confirmed.

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Work starts early for these transformers. With the first rays of sun and after the Fahr –the first prayer of the day in the Islamic religion–, the women gather in shifts until they reach the fields, the vast majority owned by small farmers who cultivate land of less than 10 hectares, where cashews are found, trees that are very resistant to harsh climatic and rainfall conditions in the region and fast growing.

Once gathered, they are divided to collect the fruits, on the one hand, the walnut, which is sold in its entirety unprocessed to later obtain the almond, and on the other, the apple, which is transformed into products such as juices, jams, cakes, cookies and protein-rich bars that have great commercial potential.

Work starts early. With the first rays of sun and after the first prayer, the women gather in shifts until they reach the fields, where the cashew nuts are found

In Malian social architecture, the role entrusted to women limits their freedoms and rights. But most of them don’t know. Cooperatives serve as spaces for meeting and participation, where they feel that despite being part of a society in which they are underrepresented, and even absent, here they are free to interact among peers. In addition, they are trained so that, thanks to the manual work they now carry out, once masculinized, they are able to modify the perception of their economic, political or social role in the center of society and achieve real empowerment through the fruit of the cashew nut.

The cashew branch has become one of the priority sectors for the Malian authorities, including it as a fundamental axis in its Agricultural Development Policy (PDA) and in its National Investment Plan in the agricultural sector (PNISA). Proof of this is the considerable development of the sector in the southwestern region, which has a planted area of ​​more than 800,000 hectares, where more than 90% of national production is concentrated, which makes it a vital product for its economy.

Undoubtedly, the commitment acquired by the Spanish cooperation and the social agents with the women’s cooperatives in the creation of a quality brand that recognizes this product in international markets will serve to improve the value chain and support the transformation of cashew nut products. In this way, it will contribute to the creation of jobs in rural areas, considerably reducing the exodus and internal migratory movements.

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