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Clean hands for fair cashews

Published on May 20, 2024 (Updated on May 20, 2024)
Des mains propres pour des cajous équitables

At the end of summer 2019, a shocking report dealing with cashew production in India came to appeal to fans of this increasingly popular nut. Viewed by millions of Internet users, the documentary produced by French journalists revealed the disgraceful working conditions and mistreatment suffered by workers in the shelling centers.

A notable moment of the report, the cameraman managed to surreptitiously film the women exposing the palms of their hands burned by the acid contained in the walnut shells. Caught in a cycle of poverty and enslaved by greedy employers, these women lose their health and suffer for a survival wage. All this to satisfy our gluttony and often our laudable desire to limit our consumption of animal proteins.

Despite millions of views, a multitude of outraged comments and miles of chatter on social networks, two weeks later, almost everyone had forgotten the affair. A few probably decided to boycott the product, while the majority quietly went back to snacking.

But at Umano, we did not let the news fall into oblivion. Already pioneers in the importation of Fairtrade certified organic cashews in Canada, we mobilized our allies (and our loyal customers) to place a larger order on our partners. More of you will now be able to enjoy cashews with peace of mind.

What is a fair trade cashew?

Like any product Fairtrade certified , a fair trade product is above all a product which integrates social and environmental costs into the calculation of its price. Clearly, producers are sure to sell at a price that allows them to cover their costs and generate a profit margin while offering decent pay and working conditions.

Concretely, Umano's partner for cashew nuts, the Kenedougou Agricultural Cooperative (Coopake) in Burkina Faso, is made up of producers of nuts and other organic local fruits and products. Together, they have access to a production center for various shelling, drying, packaging, etc. operations. People employed at the center work in safe conditions and are paid according to the country's legal standards.

Additionally, Fairtrade certification requires that nut shellers can coat their hands with vegetable oil to prevent burns caused by the acid in the nut. It is this technique, associated with preheating followed by 24 hours of cooling of the nuts in the shell, which ensures that the acid does not cause lesions.

According to the director of the cooperative, Mr. Konaté, all these precautions have a cost: “At Coopake, we spend nearly $100 every week purchasing oil,” he says. Most shelling plant owners will prefer to keep this money in their pockets and still save time and money by not waiting for the nuts to be thoroughly cooled before they are handled.

We could also cite, among the advantages of fair trade, a premium of nearly $0.50 per kilo of nuts paid into a fund for the development of projects carried out by the coop.

Small amounts, but put together, make the difference between a conventional or organic product and a Fairtrade product. In other words, between the price of the illusion and the TRUE price.

The long journey of nuts

Practicing fair trade also means taking an interest in the product's production chain. Several journalistic sources as well as testimonies collected in the field by Umano show that the nuts may have made a very long journey before arriving here. When we think of the origin of a cashew nut, we do not spontaneously think of West Africa, but rather of India, Southeast Asia or Brazil. However, it is mainly in West Africa (Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Ghana, Benin, etc.) that we harvest the most in the world.

But the weakness of infrastructure and businesses in this region means that the vast majority of nuts are sold raw, in their shells, to foreign traders. Obviously, the prices offered for this raw material are ridiculous. For a Burkinabé farmer, a few hundred dollars represents an amount of money that cannot be refused, even if it means exchanging these few notes for months of work in the orchard or in the field.

More than 90% of the nuts therefore leave the land where they grew to ship to India, Vietnam or Brazil. On site, they will be shelled and processed, then mixed with local nuts to be resold in Europe or North America.

It is to counter this plundering of resources that initiatives such as Coopake have emerged. Producers who are members of the coop therefore benefit from a better price for their harvest and dozens of jobs are created in areas where the unemployment rate is at peaks. But the pressure is strong, and other cooperatives do not survive in an environment where competition is fierce and low prices are the law.

The product that Umano offers you has therefore traveled a shorter distance: rather than making a detour via another continent to be processed, our cashew nuts only make one journey, directly from Burkina Faso to Quebec. We thus support a rural and semi-urban community very far from trade routes and the appetite of agro-industry giants.

More than a product, a message of kindness

Fair trade is also and perhaps above all a state of mind. It is the idea that through a product, it is a feeling, an emotion, a part of an individual and a people that travels.

In this case, it is the idea of ​​peace and goodwill that circulates. Indeed, Burkina Faso has for some time been grappling with serious problems of violence caused by armed groups claiming to be Jihad who are sowing terror in several regions of the country. A problem which has multiple geopolitical, ideological, criminal and ethnic sources on which we will not dwell here. But all observers of this conflict agree that its scale is fueled by chronic poverty, isolation and the absence of prospects experienced by a large part of the population of these Sahelian regions.

On the scale of this humanitarian crisis, Umano's initiative is extremely modest, even symbolic. But we believe that symbols are important.

This is a message that we send to the Burkinabé people: we do not forget you, we are with you. And a message that dozens of families from Kenedougou are sending us: we want prosperity and peace in Faso.

And this is the essential role of a trader: that of messenger between worlds, people, stories, and all the better if these stories pass through a soft and crunchy little comma-shaped nut.