Cashew nuts are undoubtedly delicious. Because of their great taste and versatility, their popularity is continuing to rise. This is good news, but what can’t be ignored is that cashews are grown mainly by subsistence farmers in remote rural areas.

Sourcing cashews sustainably means addressing the issues that exist in the supply chain. As one of the leading global suppliers of bulk raw cashews and organic cashews with 13 owned processing and packaging facilities, we take sustainability extremely seriously. With our digital insights platform, AtSource, we offer customers a unique level of insight into the journey of their cashews; bringing greater transparency to the agricultural sector and fostering partnerships to drive change.

Unique insights into farming communities

We source most of our cashew nuts from farmer co-ops in rural Africa and Asia, which represent more than 50,000 smallholder farmers. Using AtSource, customers can see exactly what issues these farming communities face and what action we’re taking to resolve them.

The goal of AtSource is to strengthen the connection between companies and products they buy, involving them in a collective effort to reduce environmental footprints and improve farmers’ livelihoods. This means companies have assurance that their cashews are responsibly sourced and can communicate this to their consumers.

Detailed data creates real change

Our teams on the ground collect and analyse data from the farmers we work with. We then feed the data into AtSource, which customers can access via 100+ environmental, economic and social metrics. The AtSource model is flexible, so companies can choose their level based on how ambitious their sustainability goals are.

The AtSource Entry tier resonates most with companies at the beginning of their sustainability journeys, for whom the country-level information is particularly useful for managing reputational risk. AtSource Plus, provides a more detailed picture covering the entire product journey from farmer group, up to the customer destination.

For all tiers, AtSource has an eco-calculator that shows the environmental footprint of products, separated into carbon, water and land use at different stages of the supply chain: on farm, during processing, and on route to the customer destination.

For example, if a Canadian customer buying cashews from Vietnam logs on to the dashboard, they can see that their cashews come from the Duc Co cooperative that has 519 farmers. Using the Eco-calculator they find out that cashews grown in Duc Co and shipped to Quebec generate 7.69 tonnes of CO2 equivalent with agriculture contributing the majority - 96%, compared with 3.03% for transport, and 0.42% for processing.

With accurate data at their fingertips, companies can report on and work with Olam to improve the issues that matter most to them and their customers.

AtSource Infinity – the top and most ambitious tier – opens up opportunities for customers to participate in customised, large-scale and transformational sustainability projects, with Olam and other partners.

How we use the data to inform action

Gathering data for AtSource has revealed some areas where we need to dig deeper and ramp up our efforts to improve things on a social and environmental level. In our cashew supply chains, we’re particularly concentrating on:

  • Economic opportunities
  • Health and nutrition
  • Diversity and inclusion

For Olam’s cashew team in Cote d’Ivoire, the process of gathering AtSource data uncovered a number of areas where farmer livelihoods should be improved. A low country-risk score for nutrition prompted a survey to understand the needs of cashew farmers better so we could respond more effectively. We found that 93% of farming households can regularly access foods that give them enough calories. But we also learned that families get most of these calories from just a few foods which lack many of the nutrients needed for optimal health.

We’re using this information to improve health and nutrition in these cashew communities under our Sustainable Cashew Growers Programme (SCGP). This programme supports around 27,000 farmers with projects to improve livelihoods, communities and the environment. It includes training on things like crop diversification and nutrition; voluntary HIV testing, condom distribution and HIV/AIDS awareness-raising sessions; and building schools and water pumps (limited access to clean water is one of the underlying factors contributing to malnutrition).

Looking at data on household income, we can see it’s hard for smallholder farmers to make a living from one crop alone. The primary focus of many AtSource programmes is therefore to help these farmers produce more and better, with training on GAPs, crop diversification, quality and input provisions. Many of the programmes also integrate certifications such as Organic and/or Fairtrade. In Vietnam for example, Olam assisted cashew farmers in Binh Phuoc, Ia Grai, Duc Co and Krong Pa to establish new cooperatives and achieve Fairtrade certification, which commands a premium. As they do so, they raise their incomes, which can be invested back into their farms, creating a virtuous cycle.  

The impact of these activities are being captured under the nutrition metrics of AtSource Plus, allowing us to monitor progress and drive continuous improvement.

Helping women to achieve financial autonomy

Analysing the diversity and inclusion metrics we see where we need to act to improve gender equality. For example, we look at how many women have been on training courses and how many hold leadership positions.

One of the main ways we can improve equality is by offering women the opportunity to earn money themselves and improve their families’ living standards. In Ghana, in partnership with German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), we’ve been helping women achieve greater financial independence with the power of bees. We’ve given hundreds of female cashew farmers beehives and training so they can bolster their income from sales of honey and beeswax. (Find out more). Meanwhile in Côte d’Ivoire, we’ve partnered with the World Bank to help female cashew workers gain financial autonomy.

Sometimes change happens on a larger scale, benefiting entire towns. In Dimbokro, Côte d’Ivoire, we set up our first cashew processing facility in 2004. Since then the facility has contributed hugely to the growth and development of the area. Olam currently employs around 1000 full-time and seasonal workers in Dimbokro, 85% of who are women. By building a long-term future with our suppliers, we ensure the sustainability of both their livelihoods and our business. (Read about our partnership with one remarkable woman who is transforming the cashew community of Djekanou, Côte d’Ivoire)

Benefits for customers, farmers and consumers

Through a rigorous process of gathering and analysing data, and running targeted programmes, AtSource is bringing benefits to customers, farmers and consumers. We aim to bridge the gap between our customers and the people and landscapes their products come from,  so they can understand the issues on the ground better and work with us to improve them. With collaboration underpinned by data, we can create thriving rural communities and bring ever-greater transparency to global food systems.

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