In the early 1970s the majority of global cashew production (68% of the total) took place in African countries, in particular in Mozambique and Tanzania. Over the following 30 years production trends shifted, with Asian countries emerging as the world leaders in cashew production. Today, India commands about 40% of the international market in cashew production. Other Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and Indonesia, are beginning to expand their production capacities. Currently, the four main cashew-producing regions are India, Brazil, Nigeria, and Tanzania (Azam-Ali & Judge, 2001).
Cashew is grown throughout the tropics and in parts of the warm subtropics, but mostly between the Tropic of Cancer (20°N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (24°S). It is now widely cultivated for its nuts and other products in the coastal regions of South Africa, Madagascar, and Tanzania; in South Asia, from Sri Lanka to the Philippines; and also in Australia, in a limited area. In most countries, smallholders carried out cashew planting individually. In India, the forest corporations and Cashew Development Corporations started large-scale cashew plantations in virgin forestlands. Apart from the organized plantations, cashew has semi-wild growth, and is found growing naturally in most of the cashew-growing regions. The cashew tree is easily cultivated, with a minimum of attention. It is usually found from sea level to an altitude of 1000 m (3000 ft), in regions with annual rainfall as low as 500 mm (20 inches) and as high as 3750 mm (150 inches). For maximum productivity, good soil and adequate moisture are essential. Optimal conditions include an annual rainfall of at least 890 mm (35 inches) and not more than 3050 mm (120 inches). The tree has an extensive root system, which helps it to tolerate a wide range of moisture levels and soil types, but commercial production is only advisable in well-drained, sandy loam, or red soils. The cashew tree can flourish in the sand of open beaches, but it grows poorly in heavy clay or limestone (Azam-Ali & Judge, 2001).
All parts of the cashew tree are of value. The three main cashew products that are traded on the international market are the raw nuts, cashew kernels, and cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL). A fourth product, the cashew apple, is generally processed and consumed locally. The fruit of the cashew tree, which surrounds the kernel, can be made into a juice with a high vitamin C content, and fermented to give a high percentage proof spirit. The raw cashew nut is the main commercial product of the cashew tree, though the yield of cashew apples is eight to ten times the weight of the raw nuts. Nuts are either exported raw, or processed prior to export. Processing of the raw nuts releases the by-product CNSL, which has industrial and medicinal applications. The skin of the nut is high in tannins (40%), which can be recovered and used in the tanning of hides.
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