Atinya, or as we know it, cashew, is not a nut I ever enjoyed. On airplanes, in the mixed nut pre-flight snack passengers get, I would always separate them out and my mom would happily take them. But like most nuts (actually, cashew is a seed but whatever), aside from the ground nut, I had no idea where cashews came from. I probably would have said the ground and been as wrong as an old friend who thought pineapples grew on trees. Had he said that about cashew, he would have been right. It grows attached to the fruit, called an apple, which is sort of rectangular in shape, red or yellow in color and sweet and tart at the same time. The nut itself is in a hard shell and quite the process to extract. Hands have to be protected due to urushiol, a toxic resin, found within. Cashew is of the same family as poison ivy, Anacardiaceae. Hence why you have never seen a cashew nut in its shell, sold at market.
The Brong Ahafo (BA) region of Ghana is cashew country. Most of BA sits on the transition zone from its tropical/rainforest south and guinea savanna north. That in-between is ideal for cashew trees. Not to say you do not find them elsewhere in Ghana. Simply that the orchards and serious cashew farmers are primarily in BA. I found a cashew farmer in Macondo during my site integration period and would go to his farm to help collect the apples and nuts. I thought to try and get him new trees as his were aging and I asked around about any other cashew farmers. A handful of guys spoke up and only one of them actually had an orchard. The others had a few trees here and there, having lost others to fire or disease.
It is only now, well into my second year that I am truly doing a cashew project. I talked to Cashew Initiative, the Peace Corps Ghana working group, to get on the list for seedlings and I am due to get seedlings later this month! Word apparently got around Macondo and all these wannabe cashew farmers came out of the wood work! Of course I was surprised! This desire for cashew trees did not come out in the PACA needs assessments I did all those months ago. Luckily I was able to nearly double my seedling order to 500. Instead of a list of five farmers, I now have over twenty and those over that mark are on a waitlist. The original five guys were amenable to including the others thus reducing what they would get. With the 500 seedlings, each will get half an acre. While this is small, most of these farmers are new to cashew farming. So with this batch, they can learn how to plant and space properly and get them well established. If they want more by next year, we can get some and spreading the ages of the trees is also a good thing for long term planning. It has, so far, all worked out.
Remember, I am no cashew expert, so I went down to BA last week to learn myself how to plant and space. It is not just a matter of digging a hole as big as the seedling bag. It is a hell of a lot more work and I hope the Macondo farmers will be convinced as to why it is necessary, especially because trees are long term. Once these babies are planted, that is it. And how and where they are planted will affect the rest of their lives, including productivity.
Next week I will have a meeting on how to plant properly and I will be going out to the fields with them to do some proper demonstrations and make sure all goes well. We are going to be busy and I will definitely have another entry, primarily of photos of us planting!