Improving Cashew Production via Inspiring Community-Led Films

Sheryl Cowan, Senior Vice President of Programs at Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) and Jean Francois, Chief of Party of CNFA’s West Africa Cashew Project (PRO-Cashew), outline how film initiatives can be utilized to build capacity among smallholders.

Married with five children, Irié Lou Tinan Rosalie lives in Gouenfla, a village within the Zuenoula department in the western part of central Côte d’Ivoire. Like most women in her village, she works with her husband to maintain and harvest the family’s four-hectare cashew plantation, even though she was never formally trained. Cashew production is an important industry in Côte d’Ivoire, which holds nearly 25 per cent of the world’s cashew nut market.

But like other West African cashew producers, Rosalie also faces a range of severe challenges—including reduced yields due to ageing cashew tree stocks; farmers’ limited technical and financial capacity to rehabilitate and renovate ageing orchards; and an underdeveloped nursery sector unable to provide timely and consistent high-performance seedlings to offset declines in productivity.

Building capacity through film

Recognising the need to provide advanced cashew production and post-harvest training to families like Rosalie’s, the USDA West Africa PRO-Cashew Project, implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), in 2021 arranged and conducted a series of community-based educational film events—dubbed Ciné Village—to help producers like Rosalie learn cashew production, harvest and post-harvest best practices and techniques.

Through the initiative, which ran in Côte d’Ivoire this year, the project facilitated interactive, family-friendly film screenings aimed at improving the enabling environment in the cashew sector and building the capacity of smallholder farmers. The grassroots educational effort was designed to provide an inviting, family-centred environment where cashew farming families could come together in the heart of their communities to learn best practices in cashew production, harvest and post-harvest handling.

Ivorian cashew producers, with the support of Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other development partners, helped to develop the community-driven films’ content to better address the specific needs and interests of Ivorian producers. Each film screening engaged its audience through informative and entertaining clips, animations, and interactive forums where participants were able to ask local cashew experts questions and share their own experiences and knowledge.

“I learned a lot thanks to the arrival of Ciné Village films in our village,” says Irié Lou Tinan Rosalie. Photo credit: CNFA

Empowering women and improving production

Even though women are at the centre of maintaining orchards and harvesting raw cashew nuts, traditional cashew training models historically have not included them. However, PRO-Cashew developed Ciné Village as an innovative way to expand the reach of its training program and build the capacity of more smallholder farmers—especially women.

“I had never participated in a training on cashew nuts,” said Rosalie, who attended the Ciné Village film screening in Gouenfla in June 2021. “Before participating in the film screening, everything I knew about cashew production came from my husband.”

But the new training changed all that.

“I learned a lot thanks to the arrival of Ciné Village films in our village,” Rosalie said. “I didn’t know that it was essential to use string to separate the nut from the apple to dry cashews well for at least three days, to put them in jute bags and to require a receipt at the time of sale. Today I know this, and I think it will change the way I work.”

Because the Ciné Village training methodology was created to align with the village culture in West Africa—where social gatherings are an integral part of the community—whole families can participate in the trainings. This means each participant can gain the skills necessary to cultivate a more extensive and higher quality cashew harvest, improve livelihoods and incomes and broaden their family’s economic horizons. Or, as Rosalie points out, “The movies and exchanges have not only opened our eyes to the potential of our cashew nuts, but they also opened our wallet because a better sale always accompanies a better production.”

A ripe cashew fruit. Photo credit: Pixabay

Scaling internationally

The results of the training program have been significant. Since its launch in Côte d’Ivoire on July 24, 2021, Ciné Village has trained 3,362 cashew producers, including 978 women (29.08 per cent). By 2022, PRO-Cashew plans to extend the initiative to Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso, and will translate the program’s videos into the local languages.

The program also plans to produce an additional series of videos for Côte d’Ivoire that focus on cashew nursery and orchard creation, orchard maintenance, integrated pest management and orchard renovation and rehabilitation. By the end of 2022, Ciné Village aims to train more than 9,000 cashew farmers to better manage their cashew orchards with enhanced planting, harvesting and storage practices.

While the approach of Ciné Village is simple, it illustrates a potentially powerful approach to build capacity at scale among smallholders. This community-based activity has played a significant role in boosting producer capacities and increasing the competitiveness of West African cashews in the international market.