One Year of COVID-19: Elisabeth Atchade, Cashew Farmer in Benin
In this series, we check back with TechnoServe program participants previously featured on our blog, documenting how their lives have changed and progressed. In our previous story on Elisabeth Atchade, a cashew farmer in Benin, the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant market panic left her with uncertainty about the future of her cashew production. Find out how she is doing now, eight months later.
When Elisabeth Atchade was young, her father gifted her half a hectare of land. In 2005, she decided to convert the land into a cashew orchard, and she hasn’t looked back since. Today, Elisabeth is a cashew farmer in Benin who lives with her husband and four children, relying on her cashew production to support her family.
Unexpected Challenges Bring Uncertainty for Cashew Farmers in Benin
But early last year, an unexpected challenge threatened to change everything. When we first featured Elisabeth on our blog in August 2020, she was dealing with the aftermath of COVID-related lockdowns and travel restrictions. These measures had led to a market panic, and Elisabeth watched with concern as the price for cashews plummeted.
The start of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the 2020 cashew harvest and marketing year. There were no buyers. Prices dropped drastically, making it difficult for me to reach my goal this year of starting construction of my house. I also could no longer go to the market to sell my subsidiary products, which significantly reduced my income.”
— Elisabeth Atchade, cashew farmer in Benin
Since 2015, TechnoServe, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has helped smallholder cashew farmers in Benin improve their yields, boost their incomes, and increase domestic processing through the BeninCajù program. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the program team worked constantly with farmers, market actors, and government institutions to address a set of rapidly evolving challenges.
Market Uncertainty During COVID-19
In response to falling cashew prices, TechnoServe helped the National Cashew Producers Union reassure its members to hold back stock until a solution to the market crash could be developed. It also advised the country’s minister of trade and industry about global cashew market conditions.
Simultaneously, the team worked closely with local processors to convince some of these key buyers to offer favorable sales terms upon the recovery of the market.
This work helped provide sufficient market confidence to see prices return to normal levels within weeks. As a result, cashew farmers were able to maintain reliable incomes in a year otherwise marked by significant financial uncertainty.
Access to Finance During COVID-19
Another challenge many farmers like Elisabeth faced during COVID-19 was the temporary closure of savings and internal loan communities (SILCs). SILCs provide financial services, including credit, to communities that might not otherwise have access to formal financial institutions.
Through the BeninCajù program, cashew producers receive training on SILC methodology and financial education, in addition to access to SILC credits.
“I was encouraged to join my local SILC group,” Elisabeth shares. “There, I was able to participate in the savings and obtain credits without any particular papers, which allowed me to buy four packages of sheet metal for my project of building a small house to support my husband.”
[Now], I can easily participate in the schooling of my children, and I was able to strengthen my subsidiary peanut business. My sales increased from a small basin to five bags. Within the next five years, my ambition is to acquire land and extend my cashew orchard to three hectares, with a production of 1500 kgs (3,300 lbs) per hectare.”
— Elisabeth Atchade
The Path Forward for Cashew Farmers in Benin
Before the pandemic, Elisabeth was averaging 200 kgs (440 lbs) of cashew nuts per season. This year — despite the COVID-19 crisis and all the uncertainties that came with it — she produced 450 kgs (992 lbs) of cashew nuts. Elisabeth is now a producer leader in her community, taking the information she learned from the program and sharing it with other cashew farmers.
I am proud to train other producers in cashew orchard maintenance and management techniques, harvesting and post-harvest management, and financial education. I follow them to ensure their success.”
— Elisabeth Atchade, cashew farmer in Benin
For Elisabeth, the last year has been characterized by a series of highs and lows.
“My life this year has been subject to great challenges and uncertainty, but also to an increase in my production and income. I’m motivated to keep working hard because I know that as long as there are cashews and buyers, I’ll be selling. In three to five years, I want to expand my farm to improve my production and income, as well as the life of my family.”