We suggested in an earlier post that Chittagong Division in the southeast of Bangladesh is an area where an integrated cashew plantation project should be initiated by the Government of Bangladesh. This recommendation is informed by background research and analysis. In fact, the area already has a few cashew plantations, as the Mega Group of Chittagong has mentioned on their web site. They have a cashew plantation in the Bandarban area, not far from Chittagong city. On the other hand, it is a small operation, and we are not certain if any of the principals of the Group analyzed the agronomy or economy of the area. It is possible that they chose to use the area because they happened to already own land there. In any case, we believe that they have chosen a good location.
It is commonly believed that the “cashew is very modest in its soil requirements and can adapt itself to varying soil conditions without impairing productivity” (Kerala Agriculture Ministry). This needs to be somewhat amended. According to agricultural sources, it performs much better on fairly good soils than on poor swampy soils. The Kerala government site also claims that “the best soils for cashew are deep, friable well drained sandy loams without a hard pan.” We have noticed that pure sandy soils, water stagnation and flooding are not congenial for the cashew.
As we are recommending to start new plantations using the most common cashew variety, Anacardium occidentale, it would be unrealistic to convert a well-growing cultivation area, such as for paddy or lentils, to cashews. It is known that Bangladesh has limited forested areas, but it would be advisable to start in a forested area with comparably high unemployment. Experiences in India and some African countries clearly indicate that cashew plantations generally succeed in such surroundings. Most experts agree that cashews grow in any tropical climates, but the success of the cashew industry in a country is dependent upon the location of the plantation. K.P. Prabhakaran Nair’s “The Agronomy and Economy of the Important Tree Crops of the Developing World” is one of the authoritative books on the subject. In it, the author mentions that while the economic botany, taxonomy and cytogenetics of the cashew plants need to be looked at, the choice of plantation area is the most important for success.
The requirements of cashew processing plants are less demanding than operations such as nuclear power plants or chemical refineries, so the availability of workers is the key. In fact, they can operate with a limited supply of electricity and logistical support. That said, we are not recommending primitive operations. We expect that there would be sufficient investment for a modern state-of-the art facility and transportation networks to take the cashews in properly and hygienically sealed containers for export and local consumption.
On this basis, we recommend the following districts (and Upzillas) in the Chittagong Division:
• Bandarban (all upzillas)
• Chittagong (except Chittagong Sadr and Sandwip Upzillas)
• Cox’s Bazar (except Cox’s Bazar Sadr and Maheshkhali Upzillas)
• Khagrachhari (all upzillas)
• Rangamati (except Rangamati Sadr and Kaptai Upzillas)
In selecting the above areas, we mainly considered the soil conditions, agronomy, water requirements, intercropping (e.g. with pineapple) and availability of workers. But suitably, these are also the major areas of Bangladesh’s tribal population. Employment opportunities would benefit the aboriginals, an economically vulnerable part of society who suffer from continually high unemployment. The tribal areas in Bangladesh have not seen much private sector investment. In India and a number of African countries, the tribal areas are also mining areas that see a substantial influx of private investment. In the past, however, such mining operations have also caused strife. We are hopeful that in Chittagong Division, the tribal councils, forest department and private sector could work together harmoniously, as strong cashew production for export would be beneficial to all three parties. Experience in other countries (particularly India) has shown that a joint venture of the private sector with the government forestry department and the agriculture department has yielded better results than any other conglomeration. The cashew industry is different from the ready-made garment industry and will not survive without the government’s active support.
We suggest that the Chittagong Division Office of the (a) Department of Agricultural Marketing, (b) Department of Forestry, and (c) Bangladesh Forest Industry Development Corporation (BFIDC) should jointly prepare an initial project proposal for this purpose. Project initiation funding would be required, and the government should be able to provide from its own sources or from its international donors. It is the understanding of the authors that international funding is a possibility, as seen from similar projects elsewhere, e.g. USAID has supported the African Cashew Alliance based in Ghana. In our discussions with aid agency officials in Canada, they showed genuine interest (while remaining non-committal), as such a project would ultimately enhance women’s employment, aboriginal peoples’ empowerment, and better living conditions for marginalized portions of the Bangladeshi population.