Cashing in on cashew nuts
Jackpot Cashew Nuts Industries started producing an assortment of cashew-nut based foods earlier this year in a bid to cash in on the growing demand for heart-healthy snacks.
Since January, the company has made salted cashews, honey covered cashews, cashew nut oil and cashew nut butter at its factory located in Nilphamari sadar upazila.
"We first started producing fresh cashews in June 2016 and now we have opted to introduce these new items," Managing Director Ibnul Arifuzzaman.
The company also started producing an additional 12 tonnes of cashews per month at its second unit in Chinirkathi bazar of the upazila on October 4 this year.
Seven workers are employed by the two units, where 90 per cent of the workforce is female, said Arifuzzaman.
Faridul Islam, a worker at the first unit, said he had worked in different cashew nut industries in India's Kerala and Chennai for seven years.
"But when I heard about this factory, I returned to Bangladesh and joined here and now get Tk 20,000-Tk 25,000 per month," he added.
Another worker of the same factory, Khadiza Begum, said there were about 35 to 40 female workers at the unit, which paid them Tk 10,000 per month.
"We sell our products to various super shops like Shwapno, CSD and in the local markets in Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Joypurhat," she added.
"We received orders from Spain and Germany to export 30 tonnes each month at a price of $7.5 per kilogramme and we will hopefully begin making shipments from next January," said Managing Director Arifuzzaman.
The company buys raw cashew nuts for Tk 2,600-4,000 per maund (around 37 kilogrammes) from the Chattogram hill tracts. After processing, the cashews are sold for Tk 750-Tk 1,100 per kilogramme.
"Our cashew nut oil is being sold for Tk 6,000 per litre to the cosmetic markets as it's a product of beautification," he added.
Khondakar Jobayer, assistant manager of product development and logistics at Fairy Consumer Products, said they buy 200 to 300 kilogrammes of cashew nut products yearly from Jackpot Cashew.
"After starting export, our target is to produce 100 tonnes of cashew nut products per month at our two factories but we are facing a shortage of raw materials," he added.
Between 1961 and 1962, during the Kaptai dam's construction, the government brought some cashew nut plants from South Africa for the people who were being relocated to Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban areas, said Dr Mehedi Masood, product director of the Year-Round Fruit Production for Nutrition Improvement project of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
In 2019 and 2020, just 1,323 tonnes of cashew nuts were harvested in total from the hill tracts.
"But since the government is now giving importance to cashew nut production, we are hoping to get around 2,500 tonnes of cashew nuts from the hill tracts areas in the upcoming year," Masood added.
Md Ayub Ali, a local trader of Bandarban, said he buys raw cashew nuts from the farmers for Tk 2,400-Tk 3,000 per maund and sells it to different processing factories for Tk 2,600-Tk 3,500 per maund.
"To extend the growth of this business, we have to import raw nuts from Vietnam, Cambodia or India for the next five years since we currently can't grow enough raw materials in the country," Jackpot's Arifuzzaman said while urging the government to allow duty free import of the raw materials.
Cashew nuts a new hope for earning foreign currency
GreenGrain Cashew Processing Industry was the country's first cashew nut processing industry to get an order to supply of 16 tonnes of processed cashew nuts to Dubai next January.
Its commercial and compliance manager, GMM Faqruddin Mamur, told The Daily Star that Global Asia Commodity Pte, a Singapore-based trans-national multi commodity trading house, sought the cashew kernels for $1.63 lakh.
"Our shipment is ready and will head to Dubai next January," he said.
Md Tariqul Islam is a local trader of Malaghata area in Bandaban Sadar upazila who processes 40 to 50 kg of cashew nuts every day in a little factory called Kishan agro.
Tariqul got an order from the United Kingdom to supply 500 kilogrammes of fresh cashew nuts. In November, he exported 13 kilogrammes of the order for £13 per kilogramme.
"Bangladeshi cashew nuts are tastier than the Indian or Vietnam varieties. That's why a Bangalee businessperson ordered the 500 kilogrammes of cashew nuts for his departmental shops in England," he said.
Cashews are a highly nutritious and valued industrial crop all over the world. Therefore, the government has taken initiatives to expand the cultivation of cashew nuts and coffee in the hill tracts and some parts of northern districts.
"We have finalised a project on cultivating cashew nuts and coffee and will send it to the Ecnec next month to get approval for the Tk 200 crore project, said DAE Project Director Masood.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic affected the whole garment sector and many workers lost their jobs and so the government is planning to create alternative sources of manpower utilisation.
The cashew nut and coffee cultivation project is one such alternative, said Masood.
"There are 60 lakh hectares of land in the hill tracts and some parts of the northern district which are suitable for cultivating the industrial crops like cashew nuts and coffee," he added.
Vietnam earns about $4 billion while India earns nearly $1.5 billion from cashew nut exports each year.
"If we can develop these industrial crops and its processing sector, then Bangladesh can also earn a lot of foreign currency by exporting processed cashew nut products as we have a huge amount of manpower to utilise in this sector at a lower wage than Vietnam and India," Masood said.