BRC auditors are trained for the first time in West Africa, thanks to the support of BeninCajù
Benin cashews no longer know any borders, thanks to the British Retail Consortium certification, or BRC, to which two of the largest cashew processing factories in the country have already committed.
From 19 to 23 November 2018, BeninCajù trained 12 cashew experts in Cotonou who will serve as third-party BRC auditors. Already praised for the high quality of its cashew kernels, Benin is also ahead in terms of hygiene and food safety standards compared to other countries in West Africa, and the newly obtained British Retail Consortium Global Standard Certification, proves it!
According to Frédéric Gnonlonfoun, BeninCajù's Quality Issues Specialist, auditors training is of utmost importance and this is the first time that such a training is been provided in West Africa. 80% of the BRC Global Standard third-party auditor training is conducted in London at the BRC headquarters and it normally costs £1,500, or CFAF 1,103,050 per participant. BRC is an international standard for food safety, and today it is seen as the most trustworthy food standard reference in the agri-food processing world. Large international distribution chains usually require their food suppliers to have a BRC certification. BRC certified companies have no problem selling anywhere in the world. “This is really a huge opportunity for us”, adds Mr. Gnonlonfoun. The training of third-party BRC auditors is the first step in the certification process; successful participants will later be able to audit agribusiness companies and issue BRC certificates on behalf of the certification body.
With this training, Fludor and Tolaro Global, the two biggest cashew factories in Benin, will be better equipped to understand international standards and auditing requirements. It will also benefit the National Cashew Processors Council of Benin, CNTC, which wants to develop a technical committee composed of auditors to monitor the hygiene and quality levels in processing plants operating in Benin. BeninCajù's support to this training is part of the project’s vision to help increase and ensure the quality of cashews in Benin. Before the BRC training, BeninCajù had already helped twenty actors in the cashew processing industry obtain a PCQI diploma (Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is a requirement of the new American Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). All these actions and initiatives reinforce Benin’s commitment to strengthen and develop its cashew health security system.
From 8 to 10 November 2018, Benin’s cashew processors, represented by IFA, the national cashew value chain association, took part in the third edition of the International Exhibition of Cashew Nut Processing Equipment and Technologies, SIETTA, in Abijian, organised this year in conjunction with the annual conference of the African Cashew Alliance, ACA. During the show, Benin was awarded the prize for the most beautiful booth and best presence/performance.
Over 7500 participants, 500 exhibitors and speakers, and 37 countries represented, SIETTA 2018 brought together people from all over the world, to discuss cashew nut transformation and explore the industry’s role in empowering the African youth. Panels, business meetings, innovative products, cashew tasting, as well as new processing techniques and technologies, were just some of the many activities that took place at SIETTA. Thanks to the support of partners such as BeninCajù, a project implemented by TechnoServe and the Catholic Relief Services, Benin’s cashew processors actively and successfully engaged in all trade show’s activities. Already well-known for the whiteness, size and sweetness of its cashews, Benin distinguished itself this year for the high number of delegates who were present at the show and the beauty of its booth. "We want the world to know about the outstanding quality of our cashews and to do that, we have to present our product well and use a packaging that reflects this quality", says one of IFA’s representatives.
Benin’s innovative cashew sector
TechnoServe Benin Country Director, James Obarowski and his Deputy Manager, Soulé Manigui, led several panel discussions on cashew nut shell electricity and opportunities for young people in the sector. The shell represents almost 70% of the total weight of a cashew nut and Benin will be collecting more than 24 thousand tons of cashew shells by 2020. The project BeninCajù has quickly realised the great potential hidden behind cashew shells, and is in fact already working with a cashew nut processing plant in the country to produce electricity from this otherwise wasted component. By the end of 2019, this ground-breaking innovation will become a reality. As for the opportunities for young people in the cashew industry, a great example was given by Mr Manigui, who talked about the growing need for cashew nurseries, to improve cashew trees productivity and quality - which is also a government’s priority - and the consequent increasing demand for nurseries workers.
Benin’s successful participation in SIETTA 2018 showed once again that the West African country is at the forefront of the global cashew industry and ready to fully exploit the great economic potential of this delicious nut!
Patrice's favourite activity is to spend time in the lush green fields of the Cité Verte (Green City), near his home village of Gobada, in the Savalou district. When he is off duties from his customs officer job, he dedicates himself to agriculture and cashews.
The so called Cité Verte (Green City) covers 32 hectares out of Savalou, 20 of which are occupied by cashew trees. The first plantations date back to 2011 and were seeds produced by cashew nurseries in Benin. Agriculture has always been a great passion of the Ahokpossi’s family. Patrice’s father worked as farmer in the Ivory Coast and his uncle, who took care of him in Benin, was a forest ranger. Already before becoming a customs officer, Patrice had a good deal of experience within agriculture. Thanks to the Cité Verte of Gobada, that was right outside his doorstep, he could accomplish his dream of creating a modern cashew plantation. The BeninCajù team, which has been supporting the development of the Cité Verte throughout the years, praised Patrice’s and his management team’s efforts. The plantation applies the latest cropping techniques and uses high tech machineries; it also functions as a "training field" for students to perform their internships. In 2017, the Cité Verte welcomed visitors from the annual African Cashew Alliance Conference (ACA).
"My greatest hobby is farming"
"Agriculture was all I wanted to do and thought I would do in my life, before going into the public service" says Ahokpossi, who sees working in the fields as his only hobby. This explains his ability to perfectly combine his work and tasks as customs officer with the demands and challenges of owning a cashew plantation. “Agricultural entrepreneurship is very promising if well organized”, assures the entrepreneur, who always tries to encourage other civil servants like him, who are eager to invest in the cashew sector, to embrace the “farmer spirit”. This is one of the strategies that will allow Benin’s agricultural industry to increase not only its annual cashew nuts production but also and above all, its orchard yields. “Owning a cashew plantation doesn’t automatically link to success, what makes the difference is adopting best practices”, concludes Patrice Ahokpossi.
Thérèse Orou Ali has always «dreamt of becoming a successful woman». Her dream came true when she decided to venture herself into the cashew apple industry and eventually discovered Sweet Benin, the first African brand for the promotion of cashew apple juice and its by-products.
Thérèse lives in the outskirts of Djougou, a small town 450km north of Cotonou. Her small cashew apple processing factory is next to her house. Every Saturday morning, she goes to town to teach high school students nutrition and technological transformation. She loves teaching and passing her knowledge onto the young ones. Once she is back home, Thérèse has to breastfeed her 11-month-old daughter, check all the cashew apple juice orders with her commercial agent and give interviews to journalists.
Thérèse’s father was a very busy farmer, so she spent her childhood with a host family from whom she learnt all about food processing and agricultural products. After school and during breaks, she would walk around the city, and go from door to door to sell those products. It was at a very early age that Thérèse started to acquire hands-on experience in the transformation and distribution of agri-food products. Thérèse’s path to success did not come without difficulties; being a mother, a teacher, and an entrepreneur is rewarding yet very challenging. She remembers the years when she had to work as a gardener for the Djougou Council to support herself and not having to ask a man for help. She always tells her students, particularly girls, about the difficulties and challenges she faced along the way, to inspire them and make them stronger. Thérèse is well-known outside Benin and is a reference for women and young entrepreneurs across Africa. In 2015, she was nominated Francophone Africa’s best entrepreneur.
Watch below the video about Thérèse
"Cashew apples are good money and allow me and my family to live well"
Over 500 women were trained by Thérèse on cashew apple collecting techniques, and more than a 1000 were hired to work in her apple processing business. In 2017, she discovered the label Sweet Benin, launched by the international NGO TechnoServe and funded by the U.S government. Through this powerful initiative, Thérèse was able to hire five permanent employees, and produce and sell over 55,000 bottles in 2018.
Thérèse was the protagonist of the National Cashew Marketing Campaign’s launch in Djougou, where she showcased and promoted all her cashew apple products, triggering the interest of two Ministers who later decided to visit her factory. Thérèse believes that cashew apples are not only a great source of revenues but also a means to women empowerment, especially in Benin’s most rural areas. Women working in cashews can make a living with it and also build confidence and expertise that they can apply to other jobs in the future. Thérèse wishes to develop her network of women employees further and expand her production unit. For 2019, she is foreseeing to produce over a 100,000 cashew apple juice bottles.
"Being an entrepreneur is definitely not more important than being a mother"
Thérèse believes that women empowerment does not and should not preclude women from being wives and mothers. A financially independent woman can actually support her husband in meeting the needs of the family: "I fully commit to my responsibility as a wife and a mother," says Therese.
Polygamy is a wide spread practice in rural areas of Benin and financially independent women who are left by their husbands can better support their children. Thérèse is convinced that the cashew apple industry can help many other women like her to become independent. Only 10% of the 800,000 tons of cashew apples produced in Benin every year is processed. The industry’s potential is huge and is yet to be exploited. What it needs now is many more women like Thérèse to take advantage of it.