2. The Problem
The agricultural sector is of paramount importance for the strengthening of the Beninese economy as it contributes an average of 32.7% to GDP, 75% to export earnings, 15% to the revenue of the State and provides about 70% of jobs (2). After cotton, cashews and shea are the main drivers of economic growth. However, a number of problems affect the environment in which cashew and shea sectors develop, among which:
- Lack of funding to better invest in shea and cashew sectors.
- Low level of Beninese processing of shea and cashew nuts into other products.
- Low income for producers because of poor quality of shea and cashew products.
- Low degree of organization of both workers and collectors/producers at the bottom of the value chain.
- Lack of a policy enabling environment (lack of interest and urgency) from the government to increase production and income, especially referring to the shea sector.
In its action program (PAG) 2016-2021, the government set the goal to diversify agricultural exports by maximizing shea and particularly cashew production (the latter from 120,000 tons to 300,000 tons by 2020). Achieving this goal requires massive investments, but above all, a reorganization of the institutional architecture of the sector. The cashew and shea branches organization seized this governmental commitment as an opportunity to prepare for their roles to contribute to achieve this goal.
Cashew sector undermined
In recent years, the cashew sector has been undermined by marketing difficulties. Cashew producers organizations have unsuccessfully called on the government to regulate the cashew market in Benin. The year 2018 marked a turning point when a great commercial shock destabilized the sector. Planters and traders could not export their products. The main markets for Benin cashew nuts, Vietnam and India, remained closed. The residual stock estimated at 35,000 tons remained unsold and price dropped down drastically, with financial losses for stakeholders, even the government (less taxes collection for the governmental budget).
Growing shea sector
On the other hand, the shea butter market starts growing and the interest for the product is increasing with the installation of new factories in Benin (Wakapu, Green Africa, Benotech, Antemana) and new export companies, like KNAR. The government shows more interest in the sector and calls of the private actors to better take into account and protect the shea parks. The destruction of shea parks is the most important threat for shea economy development. It is estimated that over the last 50 years 50% of the shea trees have disappeared due to agricultural activities and charcoal production. Specific actions in terms of enforcement of the forest legislation must be taken. But as shea nut is picking product, decision makers do not pay much attention to the situation.
Lack of access to extension services
Some other prominent issues regarding shea and cashew production are a lack of access to extension services, and therewith skills. Producers and processors access to skills is a challenge as the government at national level stopped providing such services to farmers. Studies carried out showed however that, at municipality level public funds are specifically devoted to finance the agriculture sector. However, they do not cover extension services. And finally, the post harvesting management of shea and cashew is a big quality problem (3).
(2) Plan Strategique de Developpement du Secteur Agricole 2025 (PSDSA), Version finale, Mai 2017.
(3) A specific campaign agenda to extend the fund to skills development (mainly extension services) in the shea sector has been developed and approved. Skills for reducing post harvest losses are part of the lobby and advocacy at national and local levels.