Ivory Coast has gone from being a minor player in the cashew market to the world's largest exporter of the nut. Sara Hemrajani reports on the potential gains and challenges facing the West African country as it develops this cash crop.
Forty years ago, Henri was struggling to support his family farming a small plot of land in northeastern Ivory Coast. But then he discovered that money can indeed grow on trees - cashew trees in his case. The nuts were initially planted in the 1970s to combat desertification. They're now an important cash crop for the West African nation. Output is expanding by more than 10 percent annually - hitting about half a million tonnes last season. That makes Ivory Coast the world's top exporter of cashews, and places it second only to India in terms of overall production. Yao Koffi represents Ivory Coast's exporters. (SOUNDBITE) (French) YAO APPIA KOFFI, VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE ASSOCIATION OF EXPORTERS OF IVORY COAST, SAYING: "In fifteen years this has become a major industry. And there is a lot of potential in the sector, even for a pessimistic African!" Ivory Coast's GDP has surged in recent years. But little of that wealth is being shared with the entire population. Now the government is betting on the lucrative cashew market to boost employment and incomes. Officials have set a guaranteed minimum price for cashew farmers. They're also looking at processing the crop domestically, which would create thousands of new jobs. (SOUNDBITE) (French) MALAMINE SANOGO, MANAGING DIRECTOR, COTTON AND CASHEW COUNCIL, SAYING: "We think that we'll create many jobs, and we'll create added value for the country. That's why, besides strategic reforms, the focus is on transformation." The dominance of Vietnam and India worries some investors - and they're not the only ones showing an interest in the newcomer. Some of Ivory Coast's neighbours are also closely watching their efforts to tap the multi-billion dollar industry.