Wed Sep 30, 2015
The cashew processing industry in the country worked its way up from humble beginnings in Kollam to eventually become the global citadel of cashew processing. All cashew kernels available in the domestic and foreign markets were for a long time only those processed from Kollam.
Cashew also moved forward to become a major foreign exchange earner. But now when the Cashew Export Promotion Council of India (CEPCI) is celebrating its diamond jubilee in Kochi, cashew export from the country is facing serious challenges in the international markets.
Processing of cashew on a commercial basis was introduced in Kollam during the mid-1920s by a Sri Lankan national, Roche Victoria. Later, W.T. Anderson of the U.S. settled in Kollam and started processing on a large scale by opening a factory. All kernels were exported to the U.S.
CEPCI chairman T.K. Shahal Hassan Musaliar said soon cashew processing became a flourishing cottage industry in Kollam. The export of kernels had increased from 45 tons in 1923 to 1,350 tons by 1939. During the initial years of commercial processing, raw nuts were sourced from the country itself.
Import of raw nuts from Africa began in the 1930s.
Mr. Musaliar said during 1940-41, about 28,000 tons of raw nuts were imported from Africa and the export of kernels touched 40,000 tons by 1941. World War-11 saw a fall in exports. Processors like Thangal Kunju Musaliar, Vendor Krishna Pillai, Poyilakada Parameshwaran Pillai, Kidangil Kunnju Raman and the company Pierce Leslie took cashew processing in Kollam to new heights after the war.
Mr. Musaliar recalls that when the industry faced a crisis in 1955 due to which exports suffered, the then Union Minister of Finance, T.T. Krishnamachari, intervened and called a meeting of cashew exporters in Kotttayam during his Kerala visit. Mr. Krishnamachari felt that the industry seriously needed some guidance in promoting exports and this led to the formation of the CEPCI that year, Mr. Musaliar said.
He said the U.S. was the major buyer of kernels till 1955. In 1956, the erstwhile Soviet Union began purchasing kernels from Kollam and became the top buyer of kernels from 1969.
New international markets also began developing. Today, the U.S. is back as the biggest importer of cashew from India. During the 2013-14 fiscal, the country imported 33,898 tons of cashew kernels from India. More than 25 countries import kernels from India now, he said.