The agonizing truth behind the production of cashews

Harshini Kamalakannan
Monday, September 14, 2020

When we think about cashews, the first thing that comes to our mind is its amazing taste and delicate structure. Cashews are a part of our everyday life and is widely used as a snack for people all around the world. It can be incorporated in delicious sweets, medicines and many more .

There is no doubt that Cashew is an excellent resource to us humans, however, have you ever wondered how a small cashew is obtained and ready to be served in packets?
Cashews are the fourth most popular nut worldwide. Therefore, The cashew industry is a huge business in many parts of the world like India, Vietnam, brazil etc and due to the increasing demands of cashews all over the world , the production rate in these countries are also increasing at a rapid rate. India holds for about a whopping 65 per cent of the global cashew export and this does indeed bring profit to all the cashew industries in India.

Cashews are obtained from a cashew tree called “Anacardium occidentale” which is native to the tropical regions of Brazil. This tree produces a long, fleshy stalk called a “cashew apple” that bears a resemblance to a small pear. At the end of this stalk grows the kidney-shaped cashew nut that we all cherish and adore.

Lamentably , these Cashew nuts are protected from predators by a thick double shell which contains an intoxicating and powerful poison called “Anacardic” acid.

Moreover, this oily and toxic substance is also closely related to “urshiol” - the compound found in poison ivy! When this acid comes in contact with humans it acts as a vigorous irritant and causes an allergic rash on the skin. The cashew nut shells also contain potent, caustic, toxic chemicals that begin to burn the flesh on contact! This dangerous and corrosive coating is the reason why cashew nuts are not sold in their shells like other nuts.

However, you might think that this corrosive coating is probably removed by machines but I was utterly horrified when I found out that most of the world's cashews are painstakingly shelled by hand. In India alone there are more than a million workers who remove the treacherous shells of the cashews by hand, to earn a living. These workers mostly live in poverty and are unfortunately forced to do such jobs to support their families. As mentioned before, it is best if the shells of cashews does not come in contact with the human skin at all. However, some labourers (mostly women) in many parts of India are not provided gloves by their companies regularly and have to shell the cashews by bare hands. These poor and innocent women who work there, either end up with permanent damage on their hands or a totally disfigured hand!
Sadly, these women are only paid on the basis of the cashew nuts they shell per day and they usually receive about 200 rupees per day, to put that into perspective , it is only 0.82KD daily! They have no steady income at all, so in order to gain more income, some labourers refuse gloves as it slows down their work. This is extremely heart-breaking as these strong workers endure excruciating pain just to support their families and earn a living.

In addition to what has been said, cashews in countries like Brazil, Vietnam and Guinea has been produced by child labour too! Cashew production has been turned into a nightmare for people who shell cashews by hand as importers around the world demand to reduce the price of cashews. So, the next time you buy cashew nuts, don’t forget to take the time to realize how precious it is.

Harshini Kamalakannan
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