Involvement of Small Farmers in Cashew Production : baif’s Experience

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Involvement of Small Farmers in Cashew Production : BAIF’s Experience
N. G. Hegde, S. Mahajan, P. Pednekar and G.G. Sohani

BAIF Development Research Foundation, Pune 411 052.

The Indian Economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, although its contribution to the GNP is only 27-30%. Out of one billion Indian population, over 70% people live in rural areas and 90% of their income is generated from agriculture and natural resources. The rural people spend over 85-90% of their earnings for meeting the basic needs particularly for food security and as over 40% of them are poor, they are unable to meet even their essential needs. While the poor people are underemployed, most of the natural resources in the country are under-utilised, because of gross neglect and depletion of productivity.
It is estimated that out of the total land area of 329 million ha, over 100 million ha fall in the category of wastelands, where the crop production is not economically viable. While only 28% of the cropping areas receive irrigation, over 65% of the rainwater run off from the field causing floods and heavy soil erosion. Over 60 million people are affected by floods and about 9 million tons of nutrients are washed away from the fields annually. Depletion of land resources and wastage of rain water further suppress the crop production by way of reduction in soil productivity, scarcity of ground water, change in the micro-climate, increase in weeds, pest and disease intensity. Livestock is another important natural resource, which has been contributing to the rural economy by way of milk, wool, meat and bullock power but it is not helping the farmers any more because of low productivity and shortage of feed resources. Presently, over 40% of the total 500 million heads are represented by cattle and over 85% population being low productive, are let out for free grazing. Such animals are a liability, as their milk yield is insignificant. Inspite of such negative contribution to the economy, farmers continue to maintain large herds and enhance the pressure on community pastures and forest resources.
Denudation of forests is not only affecting the environment but also displacing a large number of tribal population from their local environs. It is estimated that over 60% of the Indian population are directly dependent on forests for fuel, fodder, fibre, timber and a wide range of food and medicinal herbs. Forest provided year-round employment to 20 million people through the collection of Non-Wood Forest Products. For 50-60 million people representing 250 tribal communities, forests form a part of their culture and a natural way of life. Apart from the tribals, most of the rural poor have also been affected by the depletion of precious natural resources.
With this background, BAIF Development Research Foundation, a Voluntary Research Foundation is engaged in introduction of appropriate technologies for conserving the natural resources, while providing sustainable livelihood to the rural poor. BAIF’s focus has been on the development of non-descript cattle, soil and water conservation, wastelands development through tree based farming and empowerment of rural people. Cattle development was undertaken as an entry point activity to reach a large number of small and poor farmers owning low productive cattle. With a view to enhance the profitability of the dairy farmers, cultivation of perennial and tree fodder crops were introduced on degraded and wastelands. In this process, Subabul (Leucaena leucocephala) was selected as an important fodder tree and superior germplasm was collected from Hawaii. With its versatile characteristics such as drought tolerance, fast growth, multiple uses and ability to enrich the soil, Salvodor type Subabul became popular in India. However when it was introduced for developing private wastelands in the foothills of natural forests, the tribals were reluctant to accept this species because of poor cash income. They expressed that cultivation of fodder was not profitable, if the livestock owned by them were poor yielders. There was no urge to grow fuelwood on their lands as they could collect it freely from the community lands. The formalities involved in cutting trees also discouraged them from establishing tree plantations on their lands. On the contrary, they wanted to cultivate fruit trees which could generate cash income every year. This was the beginning of Agroforestry undertaken by BAIF way back in 1982.
Development of Fruit Orchards
While promoting fruit orchards on degraded wastelands, the focus was on the lands owned by the small families particularly those belonging to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe who have been owning such lands either through inheritance or through free allotment by the government but have been unable to utilise them because of low productivity and lack of inputs. Most of these lands being undulated, heavily eroded and devoid of irrigation, the farmers grow sorghum, bajra or pigeon pea, without investing in expensive inputs such as improved seeds, fertilisers and plant protection chemicals. As a result, the crop yields are very low. Such lands are suitable for drought tolerant fruit crops such as mango, cashew, custard apple, Indian gooseberry, tamarind, etc., which have demand in local markets. Hence, agroforestry was introduced by BAIF to produce food, fodder, fuel and generate cash income from fruit trees.
While developing orchards by the poor, it was necessary to provide critical inputs as well as wage support because they had no other source of income even to procure their daily ration. The programme also had to take care of other aspects such as involvement of women through reduction of their drudgery, health care, capacity building, development of local infrastructure to facilitate the input supply and linkage with outside organisations like financial institutions, government departments and market outlets. Taking these needs into consideration, an integrated development programme was launched in the tribal regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka states.
Choice of Fruit Species
For establishing fruit orchards on wastelands, selection of suitable fruit species was critical to attract the small farmers, with higher income. The selection of fruit species had to be finalised on the basis of the agro-climate adaptability, yield, demand for the produce and the price realised. Before promoting orchard development in Vansda taluka of Valsad district (Gujarat) and Tiptur taluk of Tumkur district (Karnataka), information on various fruit crops grown in the region were collected. Among the drought prone fruit crops, mango was the most common species grown in the region. However in Dharampur block, adjoining Vansda tehsil, cashew trees were extensively grown but not on a commercial scale. There were trees of custard apple, tamarind, cashew, Indian gooseberry, jackfruit, sapota, guava, pomegranate and citrus, particularly in home gardens but precise data on their growth and yield were not available. Many farmers who had no link with city markets expressed their difficulty in selling the fruits at remunerative prices. Therefore from the point of view of marketing, cashew being non-perishable, it scored high followed by mango. Regarding the agro-climatic adaptability, mango was performing well, while information on flowering intensity and fruit set of cashew was inadequate. Hence, mango was finally selected as the main crop.
In case of mango and cashew, grafts were used for planting and seedlings of custard apple and tamarind were used as the grafts were not easily available. Over the first three years of establishment, the growth rate indicated that the performance of cashew was better than mango. However, the farmers as well as the Field Officers were still skeptical about large scale introduction of cashew, in absence of data on yield. During the fourth year, cashew trees started flowering and the fruit set was good. This was the first hand experience on the performance of cashew both in Tumkur as well as Valsad districts which motivated the farmers as well as the field officers to consider the cultivation of cashew on a large scale.
Preference for Cashew
Having considered the agro-climatic suitability, BAIF preferred to promote the cultivation of cashew because of several advantages. Cashew is an important commercial crop having good export market. While the Government of India has set an annual target of exporting 1.0 lakh tons of cashew kernel worth Rs.2500 crores, only 92,461 tons worth Rs.2452 crores were exported in 1999 (Sanandakumar, 2000). India is in a leading position as global cashew trade in 1999 was 1.4 lakh tons and worth Rs.3,988 crores (US $ 906 million), in which India had a share of 66% in quantity and 69% in value Presently, the area under cashew cultivation is around 5.4 lakh hectares, producing about 3.5 lakh tonnes of raw nuts per annum as against the target of Rs.7 lakh tons production on 7 lakh ha. We are trailing in enhancing the yields as well as the area under cashew cultivation. The productivity of cashew is highest in Kerala (974 kg/ ha) followed by Maharashtra (936 kg/ha), while the yield at the national level is 643 kg/ha (Rao et al, 1993). There is a good network of cashew processing industries. However, the indigenous production is not adequate, to cope up with the demand for export. India has been importing over 250 lakh tons of raw cashew annually. Hence the establishment of cashew plantations will help in reducing the import of raw cashew, while providing sustainable livelihood to rural people who are not able to make optimum use of their marginal and wastelands. Being a non-perishable commodity, cashewnut can be stored easily by the farmers and there is further scope for organising small scale cashew processing to generate additional employment in rural areas.
Programme Strategy
As BAIF wanted to promote agro-horti-forestry to provide sustainable livelihood, projecting the costs and benefits was essential for raising funds and to attract the rural poor to take part in the programme. Although cashew was known for is tolerance to drought and poor soils, the returns were not attractive. With an average yield of 900-1000 kg nuts / ha, the gross income was about Rs.20,000 per annum, leaving a net income of about 50%. As it was difficult for most of the small holders to spare more than 0.2-0.4 ha for horticulture, the annual earning of Rs.2000-4000 per family was not adequate to sustain their interest. Hence it was necessary to launch an integrated development project which could cover economic development as well, while aiming to increase the profit margins. The overall goal was to bring them out of poverty.
The following strategy was adopted to implement the cashew plantation programme.

  1. Development of orchards with intensive care to facilitate better growth and higher production, instead of large scale plantations;

  1. Introduction of ideal cultivation practices followed by close technical supervision;

  1. Integration of various social development activities with orchard development;

  1. Extension of support services such as input supply, processing and marketing of the produce;

  1. Development of local organisations to manage the programme.

Establishment of Orchards
The sites selected for establishing cashew plantations were located in Dharampur and Kaprada blocks of Valsad district, spread over 145 villages, covering 12,000 tribal families owning 1-2 ha of degraded wastelands. The soils in the project area were mostly Alifisoil (red soil) with pH ranging between 6.4 and 7.0 and E.C. between 0.10 and 0.23mmhos/cm, with available N of 0.04-0.13%, P2O5 between 9 and 34 kg/ha and available K2O between 123 and 180 kg/ha. The soil depth varied from 60 to 90 cm with 15-45% slope. The plots proposed for planting cashew were either used for cultivation during kharif season or left fallow. Inspite of heavy rainfall (2500-3500 mm), the crop yields were low due to poor soil fertility and inadequate inputs. Hence it was decided to introduce the following measures while establishing the orchards:
1. Land Preparation: The plots proposed for cashew plantation, measuring about 0.2-0.5 ha. were divided into smaller plots through contour bunding. The soil fertility being low, a spacing of 7 m x 7 m was adopted for planting cashew. Pits of 0.6 m x 0.6 m x 0.6 m were dug and filled with layers dry leaves, fertile soil, neem cake, bone meal and farm yard manure to create an ideal condition for plant establishment and to reduce the incidence of pests and diseases.
2. Selection of Planting Material : Mortality of the plants in the initial two years was a major bottleneck in establishing cashew plantations (Pednekar, 1999). It was observed that over 33% of the mortality was due to termite, followed by browsing by stray animals (14.33%), pink disease or die-back (13.33%), rodent (13.63%) and moisture scarcity (7.33%). Termite damage was serious during the first two years and the plants were prone to rodent damage even during the third year. As water stress during the first year could seriously affect the survival, it was decided to set the following standards for selection of cashew grafts :
a. Procurement of grafts from reputed nurseries. Preference for Vengurla 4 (V-4) variety, because of higher kernel size (130 nuts / kg) with moderately high yield (25-30 kg/tree).
b. The grafts aging 6-8 months should be 60 cm tall, with 1 cm thick stem and 8 leaves, maintained in a 15 cm x 20 cm size polythene bag of 200 gauge.
c. The grafts should be free from pests and diseases. The plants should be drenched in trichoderma culture atleast twice in an interval of 15 days and hardening of the grafts is necessary before lifting from the nursery.
3. Maintenance : Apart from healthy grafts, good field preparation, live hedge fencing and hand watering of the plants were encouraged during the first 2-3 years. The fencing of the boundary using fodder and fuelwood species and thorny bushes could also facilitate soil and water conservation and generate additional income in the form of green manure, fodder, fuel or fibre to a great extent.
Formation of a basin around the tree, regular weeding, mulching and application of farmyard manure were recommended to ensure soil and moisture conservation. On sloppy plots where soil erosion was high, trench cum mounds were established about 1 meter away from the plant, on the lower side of the slope. The mounds were further raised by filling the soil from the upper side of the slope. The beneficiaries were advised to take up hand watering using pitchers.
4. Plant protection : Termite rodent and dieback being the major problems, an integrated plant protection programme was developed, as presented in Table 1.

Table 1 : Plant protection measures for Cashew

Name of

Control Measure

the Pest






Neem cake (as

basal dose)

Termatoria destruction and

killing of queen

Drenching of

neem oil

Chloropyriphos (spot application)


Field sanitation,

use of traps and direct killing



Direct killing of


Neem oil Spray

Root rot

Drenching bordeux mixture in


Affected plants destruction by burning

Drenching of Trichoderma

Drenching of


The farmers were encouraged to keep a close watch on the plant health and follow control measures depending on the intensity of the problem.
5. Intercropping : After the establishment of cashew grafts, the farmers were encouraged to use the interspace for growing cereals, millets or legumes, during the kharif season. With good soil and water conservation, fencing, use of improved seeds, cultivation of new crops and adoption of recommended practices, it was feasible to increase the crop yield by 25-50%. This not only helped to ensure food security right from the first year, but also ensured healthy growth of fruit trees.
6. Technical Supervision : Motivation and regular supervision were essential for successful transfer of appropriate technologies. This was carried out through the appointment of field guides, who were selected from the participating families. Generally, a field guide can supervise 50-60 families, having orchards in the same village. These youth have been trained in various skills related to cashew cultivation and tree based farming system. They have also been assigned with the responsibility of organising Self Help Groups to initiate the decision making process and shoulder the responsibilities of managing the programme.
Infrastructural Support
The above strategy helped BAIF to establish over 2200 ha of cashew plantations in Dharampur Tehsil. Looking to the success, a similar programme has been initiated in Maharashtra and Karnataka. While implementing the programme, it was observed that apart from technical inputs, there was a need for a strong infrastructure to organise various activities including the input supply and marketing. Grassroot level people’s organisations were felt necessary to mobilise the participants and to build their confidence. Thus, BAIF has been promoting the following types of local organisations to support the horticulture development programme.
Self Help Groups : These are groups of 15-20 women or men belonging to common socio-economic sections with similar interests to come together and plan for their development, raise financial resources and initiate various income generation activities individually as well as in small groups. They start with collection of a small sum from their savings every fortnight or month, and recycle their savings to meet their needs. BAIF has been encouraging the formation of SHGs by the families participating in developing fruit orchards for effective programme promotion and technology transfer as well. Earlier, the Field Officers had to visit every farm to motivate the beneficiaries and to supervise their work. Now the Field Guide explains the proposed activities to the members during the meetings. This facilitates active interaction. The group is entrusted with the responsibility of motivating and guiding the weak members and taking up the responsibility of procurement and disbursement of agricultural inputs. They are encouraged to discuss their problems and share their success during the group meetings. This approach has helped in motivation and capacity building of the participating families, who are illiterate and poor. Such organisations have protected the members from being exploited by the traders. The members were able to discuss various socio-economic problems related to their community and find suitable solutions. Closer interaction brought about harmony and peace among themselves.
Village Level Organisations : For coordination of various activities at the village level, Planning Committees have been formed. This committee consists of representatives from various self-help groups and project beneficiaries. This committee has been dealing with the procurement of inputs, selection of technologies, training, processing and marketing of the produce.
Service Societies : Apart from the Planning Committee, other organisations which are needed to support the development programmes are, cooperative credit and marketing societies and Federation of Self Help Groups. It will be ideal, if these village level organisations keep a close link with the Gram Panchayat to take advantage of all the development programmes sponsored through the Panchyati Raj Institutions. There is a need to establish an apex body of various organisations at the Block and District Levels, particularly to handle procurement, processing and marketing on a larger scale. This agency will also be helpful in providing information services on new technologies, demand and supply situations of various products in the market, while playing an advocacy role to influence the government on various policy matters. Such organisations can ensure sustainable development of the rural people.

Programme Impact
Among the participant families in Dharampur block, 36% owned less than 0.4 ha, 50% owned between 0.4 ha and 1.0 ha, while the remaining 13% held more than 1.0 ha land. When the programme was launched, 75% of the lands proposed for orchard development were marginally productive (class IV-VI type land), used for cultivating sorghum or pigeon pea during the Kharif season. 18% lands were denuded and remaining fallow, while about 7% of the orchards were established on fertile soils, mostly used for paddy cultivation. About 46% of these plots were treated for developing contour bunds and the existing bunds were repaired in the remaining areas (Mahajan et al 2000).
The land development initiated for orchard establishment which resulted in soil and moisture conservation has induced a significant change in the cropping pattern in cashew orchards. The participating families initially continued with their traditional crops such as paddy, sorghum, bajra, ragi, pigeon pea, green gram and niger. Subsequently, realising the moisture availability in the soil, they have also introduced maize, paddy, vegetables like brinjal, tomato, chilli, cucumber, water melon, onion, turmeric, sweet potato, banana, wheat, etc. With improved cultivation practices, about 55% families have increased the area under paddy cultivation from an average of 0.36 ha to 0.5 ha. This has brought an additional 10.2% area under agricultural production. Over 64% families, participating in cashew cultivation have changed their cropping patterns. In such orchards, the growth of cashew trees in terms of height and canopy cover was 20% higher as compared to the trees grown in less developed plots. Various water conservation measures such as farm ponds, percolation tanks, temporary checkbunds, perennial springs and wells helped in protecting the plantation and bringing about 36% area under irrigation during the kharif season. As a result of intensive crop production, 90% participating families were able to increase their foodgrain production and 57% of them were able to meet the entire requirement.
The impact of the project on the eco-system was positive as the fodder and fuelwood trees established on the field bunds and borders were able to meet their requirements to a great extent. On an average, a family required 4 tons of fuelwood per year which was met from 6-8 trees of Luecaena luecocephala and Acacia auriculiformis. Out of 150-200 trees grown on the borders. Gliricidia was useful for green manure and fodder. About 60% of the participating families were self sufficient in meeting their fuelwood demand and 26% families also adopted improved wood stoves for wood conservation and clean environment.
With the development of orchards, many families have started maintaining cows or buffaloes for milk production. The average annual income before initiating the project was in the range of Rs.5,000-6,000, of which 79% came from wages earned during the migration and 12% from agriculture and livestock. The cashew trees started yielding during the fourth year. The yield during the fifth year was 1.5 kg per tree or about 300 kg nuts/ha. However in good orchards, where the plant mortality in initial years was low, the average yield of nuts had exceeded 800 kg/ha (4 kg/tree) during the fifth year. These plantations can easily produce about 1000 kg nuts/ha in due course.
Through orchard development, over 93% of the families had a significant rise in income, of which 60% was contribution from land and livestock. Apart from this, the SHGs undertook various income generation activities such as raising of forestry plants, production of mango grafts, food processing, production of handicrafts, etc., which generated an income Rs.3,000-4,000 per year. These orchards are expected to reach their potential stage of production in about 10 years of planting.
The integrated development programme had a direct impact on the migration pattern of the families. The baseline study had indicated that 85% families were migrating for a period of 68 days. After the establishment of these orchards, over 76% of the families have reduced their period of migration and 50% have stopped migrating. Among the migrating families, only 15% women migrated as compared to 35% before the project. About 28% of the villagers, who were migrating earlier are now able to earn their wages in newly established orchards. This had a direct influence on the health and education of the family members particularly children, leading to better quality of life. Most of them felt that shifting their houses to the orchard was advantageous for ensuring intensive care of their orchards. While about 25% of the families have constructed new houses in the orchard, additional 25% families are planning to do so in the near future.
To avoid their dependence on the traders, BAIF has promoted a cashew processing unit through a cooperative of the beneficiaries and the SHGs are involved in collection of cashewnuts from their members. Thus the entire programme, from planting to marketing of the processed nuts are managed by the farmers themselves. This has not only generated additional employment, but also ensured interest among them to improve the profitability. As the orchards have not yet reached the stage of full bearing, all the benefits of the programme are yet to be realised. Nevertheless, the impact has been very positive so far.
Need for Future Research
Looking to the success of this project, BAIF has been promoting cashew cultivation on wastelands. However, we feel that the following aspects need further research for successful expansion of cashew plantations in the country. These are presented below :

  1. Presently, large stretches of degraded lands are remaining idle particularly in areas, where cashew has not been planted. However, information about the suitability of such areas for cashew is not known. It is therefore necessary to identify the areas suitable for this crop, based on matching agro-climatic conditions and layout of pilot field trials to explore the production potentials.

  1. The average yield of cashewnuts being very low, there is good scope to improve the yield of cashewnuts. Further research is needed to improve the nutritional management. Improvement in soil productivity should be a long term study as the cashew leaves which drop in the field are likely to affect the soil productivity due to high tannin content.

  1. As the pricing is based on the size and shape, any attempt to improve the quality of kernel can increase the profit. Presently, only about 3-5% kernels fetch a high price. It should be possible to improve the quality further through selection of suitable varieties having large size nuts, special nutrition management to induce kernel growth and reduce the brittleness.

  1. Processing of cashew apple should be developed for additional income. Presently, BAIF is planning to extract cashew juice. Alternative uses of cashew apple for production of vinegar, industrial alcohol and cattle feed can also be explored.


  1. Sadanandakumar, S. 2000. Going back into kernels. Economic Times. October.

  1. Rao. E.V.V.B, Swamy, K.R.M., Yadukumar, N and Dixit, S. 1993. Cashew Production Technology. National Research Centre for Cashew, ICAR. Puttur : 33 pp.

  1. Pednekar, P.S. 1999. Experience of Cashew in Dharampur. BAIF. Unpublished Paper : 8 pp.

  1. Mahajan, S., Newale, M. and Pednekar, P. 2000. Orchard Development sets up the tone of Tribal Development. A research study to undertake effects of development intervention. BAIF. Unpublished Paper : 19 pp.

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