Hungry for cashews? Then buy a bag of Way To Go! at the Lidl or order a box from the Johnny Cashew website. It’s not only a healthy treat, it’s also a way to help others. That’s because the nuts were supplied by Mama Cashew, the processing company that Maria Verschoof and her husband George Hokororo run in Tanzania. Since 2020, they have been working for fair prices in the cashew chain and a shorter route from Tanzania to stores and webshops.
Fairtrade minimum price, plus a premium
“The smallholder famers here often need money right away to pay for necessities”, says Verschoof. “In practice, that means individual farmers sell their cashews to the first bidder, and accept a low price for their produce. But when the farmers join forces in a cooperative, they have a much stronger position in price negotiations.”
So Verschoof encourages cashew farmers to join a cooperative. “We do that by offering member farmers a premium on top of the fair price for their nuts: the Fairtrade minimum price, plus an additional bonus. That way, we can help the farmers build a healthy income, so they can pay for school tuition or health care and accumulate a buffer for emergencies.”
Mama Cashew doesn’t just focus on farmers; Verschoof and Hokororo want everyone in the chain to benefit as well. So she brought the nut processing activities to Tanzania,
“Normally, 95 percent of Tanzania’s raw cashews are sent to Asia for processing, and then on to Europe or the US”, Verschoof explains. “That’s a waste, because most of the money is earned outside of Tanzania, and the nuts have to make a 1,250 km detour. So we take care of the whole process in house – from steaming and peeling to roasting and packaging.”
“We can guarantee payment to the farmers on delivery. That builds trust.”
More local jobs
The fact that Mama Cashew processes the nuts in Tanzania doesn’t just save on transport cost and emissions. It also gives a boost to the local economy and job market. Mama Cashew directly employs more than 500 factory workers (mainly women, which enables them to earn their own income) and creates another 1,500 jobs at suppliers and logistical companies.
The local approach also provides more transparency and traceability. By buying nuts from cooperatives nearby, Mama Cashew knows exactly where they come from. And the company ensures good working conditions for its own employees.
Less entrepreneurship risk
In 2021, Mama Cashew received its first financial support from Rabo Foundation in the form of a trade loan. “We were referred to them by our Dutch partner: wholesaler and distributor Johnny Cashew. As a small start-up, it was hard for us to get a loan in Tanzania. So the loan was like a godsend to us.”
The cashew nut trade is very capital-intensive, as Verschoof explains. “We need 5 kilos of raw nuts to make 1 kilo of processed nuts. So we need to buy a lot of nuts in a very short time frame. The harvest season runs from September to December. We have to buy our entire inventory for the whole year in just those 4 months. That causes a peak in our expenses, which presents a huge entrepreneurship risk.”
The financing from Rabo Foundation gave Mama Cashew a stable foundation to build on. “Now we can guarantee payment to the farmers on delivery. That builds trust, and encourages more and more farmers to join the cooperative.”
From 450 farmers to 1,600
The future is also bright on the buyer side, explains Verschoof. “Our nuts are available in the Netherlands via Johnny Cashew, and Lidl wants to offer the Way To Go! packets in other countries as well. We have also received a big order from the Tanzanian government, which is eager to order more next season. And our growth has made room for new customers.”
In 2021, Mama Cashew processed 250 tons of cashews that the company bought from 450 farmers. The company expects to buy twice as many nuts from 1,600 farmers in 2022. “That will put us at our current maximum capacity, until we expand to a larger factory.”
Verschoof is pleased with the result, both professionally and personally. “We set up this company based on our desire to improve the lives of smallholder farmers and to make the cashew chain more sustainable. To take care of our fellow humans. So it’s amazing to find consumers on the other end of the chain who also want to contribute to positive change by buying products like ours.”