5 March 2012
Last updated at 01:15
Cashew nut farmer Seydou Ouattara used to often feel cheated by middlemen buying his produce in Ivory Coast, one of the world's biggest producers. But now he uses a free mobile phone service to get the latest price information from the world's major buyers - India and Vietnam.
Thanks to the N’Kalo ("I’m informed" in the local Dioula language) scheme, he and 9,000 other farmers get free text messages every week - telling them the latest market information. They use this information to decide whether to sell or hold on for a higher price.
"The buyers are surprised that us simple farmers know whether the price has gone up or down. It is us farmers who can now tell the buyers what is going on. We can even say to them that the price has increased in Vietnam or it has gone down," says Mr Ouattara (l), from the village of Foro Foro, 30km (20 miles) north of Bouake, central Ivory Coast.
Despite widespread poverty, around 70% of cashew nut farmers have mobile phones, making it an ideal way to spread market information. The scheme is run by international aid agency Rongead, which works with local partner Chigata. "Lots of farmers call us for advice or to congratulate us for increasing their revenue," says Soungari Sekongo of Chigata.
Cashew trees were planted in Ivory Coast in the 1960s and 1970s to prevent the advance of the Sahara desert. But in the last few years, the crop has become a major export product and despite last year's conflict, Ivory Coast is now the world’s third largest producer and the biggest in Africa.
Once the pulpy cashew apple is removed on the farms, the nut needs to be grilled - to destroy a dangerous toxin - and the shells removed. "It’s work for women, but there are men who work with us as well. It brings me money and helps me pay for things at the house. I’m proud of our work," Pauline Affoue N’Goran says.
At the moment, the country processes less than 3% of its crop meaning much of the profit is made elsewhere. In order to change this, Ivory Coast has built the world’s biggest automated cashew processing plant. The plant has created 2,400 jobs in Bouake, where workers welcomed President Alassane Ouattara at February's opening ceremony.
This factory in Bouake, operated by agro-industrial firm Olam, will mean Ivory Coast could shift from being just a major grower to also being a major processor and so earning far more money from its nuts. Africa grows 40% of the global cashew crop, but it processes less than 5% locally.
More factories are planned for other towns in the poor north of the country, where many feel they have been marginalised by the richer south. The hope is that cashew nuts could both raise living standards and enhance national cohesion after 10 years of turmoil. (Photos and text: John James, BBC)