Search This Blog

Friday, September 13

A Tough Nut to Crack!

It’s been years since youthful(ler) energy was spent breaking almonds (local name: zanmann) with stones. Those were the years when the days were seemingly longer-a portion of afterschool hours spent in nut cracking and eating was a social and leisurely activity. Recently a neighbour offered me some from heaps of fallen almonds in her yard. My response: “I’m too old for that!”. But in retrospect what I had really felt was: “Who has time for that?”. Convenience- the lifestyle trend which led to the rise of commercial food processing and retailing. In the name of convenience we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on imported almonds to place on supermarket shelves to satisfy consumer demand.

Young almonds

 Agriculture- A Labour of Love or A Love of Labour?

Dialogue on food security and local agribusiness is usually punctuated with remarks on the abundant produce supply and lack of agribusiness that add value to this abundance. Almonds are bountiful- in season. Apart from seasonality, another challenge to the development of agribusiness is low mechanization.  Today I sit bent over, painstakingly extracting almonds out of their shells as I am sure my Amerindian and African ancestors did centuries before. This is both time-consuming and energy-consuming. However, some enterprising (and strong) persons from the Micoud to Deruisseaux gaps, manually shell these nuts and bag the raw nuts for sale. Roasted cashew nuts are also sold in season. The general response of consumers are: “But they are so EXPENSIVE!”. Would our willingness to pay appreciate if we fully understood the process from tree to tray? The nuts have to be collected, dried, cracked, bagged and stored. For cashews there is the additional process of roasting. Not to mention the emotional drain of resisting the urge to snack on the nuts!

Dried almonds
Almonds also have their share of the cottage industry of local treats. Almond is made into a brittle with sugar, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Other staples of the sweet treats market include fudge, jams and jellies made from an assortment of fruits, "coffee tea: and "guava cheese".

Can you see it? The almond nut is on the left.

Can you imagine how mechanization would revolutionize the nut business? Much like the Industrial Revolution was to Europe, during which technological advancements led to increased and sustained production and economic growth. Mechanization will benefit the agricultural sector with
  •   Increased production volume that will extend market share beyond roadside vendors’ trays to supermarket shelves and compete with foreign almonds.
  •   Higher volumes would challenge the issue of seasonality, with nuts stored for year-round distribution.
  •   Industrial roasting and shelling for even roasting and consistent results.

Their nuts vs. Our nuts: Is bigger better?

Despite the obvious benefits, St. Lucian agriculture has not adapted to improved mechanisation. Financial constraints hinder aspiring agripreneurs. Do we challenge our leaders to creating an enabling environment for agribusiness? Have we become demotivated by fruitless attempts? Have our policy makers and other stakeholders made up their minds to relegate local almond production to availability in season in small quantities and high prices; much like an antique put on display at Jounen Kweyol (Creole Day)? 

Please share your thoughts on a contemporary agribusiness environment for St. Lucia and the Caribbean.

FAO Document on Small-scale Cashew Nut Processing:

No comments:

Post a Comment