Saturday, May 05, 2012

madness of the market

The southern Senegalese region of Casamance produced 40 million dollars worth of cashews in 2011 – 40,000 tonnes – and employed more than 220,000 people, according to figures from the Chamber of Commerce in Ziguinchor, the regional capital. But as of April this year, production stood at only 8,000 tonnes, more than 15,000 tonnes less than at the same point last year. The sharp drop has been attributed to unfavourable growing conditions, a decrease in rainfall, conflict in Casamance – where anti-personnel mines have been laid on farms - and producers discouraged by low prices. Large-scale Indian buyers come to the capital, Dakar, and contract local traders to actually purchase cashews; these traders in turn dispatch freelance agents to the often remote villages where farmers have nuts for sale. "The Indians will never come to see us here. They pass the work on to intermediaries" Producers told IPS they faced numerous obstacles with respect to storage and transporting their crop from their villages to urban centres. They also said traders offered them laughably low prices for cashews, and argued that they were exploited by intermediaries who depress prices only to resell the nuts for far more to Indian exporters. The Indians will never come to see us here. They pass the work on to intermediaries
Idrissa Diatta, a farmer from Diattacounda, some 80 kilometres from Ziguinchor, said traders offer the equivalent of 60 U.S. cents per kilo at the farm gate, but are reselling it to exporters for nearly three times more, around 1.70 dollars. Abdoulaye Diatta, another planter, says traders sometimes claim prices are low because supply exceeds demand, or foreign currency exchange rates are unfavourable. "But if the dollar exchange rate has shifted, or there's really an oversupply, then we wouldn't see a single cashew nut plucked from the bush. But now every nut is sold. Right now, they're trying to swap us a sack of rice for two sacks of cashews: it's ridiculous."

Jean-Marie Badji, one of the much-maligned middlemen, says the price of unprocessed cashews varies according to changes in the world market, and traders are trying to make ends meet, not trying to dupe growers. "Look, we have to travel out to these villages to collect cashews. The roads are in terrible condition, and the truckers charge us heavily to transport goods over them. And we're talking about completely isolated villages. If we pay more than 250 or 300 CFA (less than a dollar), we risk going bankrupt," he told IPS.

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