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Food & Hunger

How the Apples You’ve Never Heard of Could Help the Environment and Improve Nutrition

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In recent years, the world has gone nuts for nuts. Health magazines have been touting the nutritional benefits of almonds, while supermarkets have been stocking their shelves with milk alternatives made of everything from hazelnut to macadamia.

But while the increased demand for nuts has driven markets and created new development opportunities, it also presents some environmental challenges. This is particularly true of cashews, which actually grow as seeds that stick out of cashew “apples” that are typically thrown away.

In the Côte d’Ivoire, farmers say “money grows on trees” in their cashew orchards, according to the United Nations magazine Africa Renewal. The country overtook India as the world’s largest producer of cashews just last year according to the BBC.

The crop has transformed the lives of many farmers on Africa’s west coast and the nut trend has helped create a new industry on the continent, but has also generated a lot of unnecessary food waste in the form of cashew apples.

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Read more: How Ikea Plans to Halve Its Food Waste by 2020

While cashew shells are toxic, their apples are not, but many in Benin, a major producer of cashews, believe that drinking the juice from cashew apples could kill you, according to OZY. But TechnoServe, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., is working to change that by partnering with local entrepreneurs to produce Sweet Benin, a tangy juice made from cashew apples.

Working with the US Department of Agriculture and the Catholic Relief Services, TechnoServe hopes to generate 4,000 jobs in Benin’s cashew industry over the next five years.

Though 57% of the world’s cashews are grown in Africa, almost all of them are exported raw and processed outside the continent, according to the African Cashew Initiative. This means that African nations are losing out on jobs and the full economic benefits of producing cashews. TechnoServe aims to bring those processing jobs back to the African countries that grow cashews and create jobs for women. TechnoServe hopes to hire women for 70% of the 4,000 jobs it aims to generate.

In fact, of 36 permanent positions at Sweet Benin’s juice production plants, 80% are already filled by women, according to TechnoServe.

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Around 100,000 tonnes of cashew apples, worth about $170 million, are thrown away every year, the head of TechnoServe’s office and program in Benin told OZY. Globally, approximately one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted — that’s around 1.3 billion tonnes of food that is thrown out or spoils during transportation — according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Using cashew apples instead of discarding them could increase Benin’s gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 1.5% percent, a substantial increase for the developing country, according to TechnoServe.

But putting the cashew apple to use doesn’t just help reduce food waste. Cashew apples are high in vitamin C, according to the African Cashew Alliance. So cashew apple juice could have a major positive impact in Benin, where 43% of children are chronically malnourished, according to the World Bank.

Read more: 3 Million Kids Die from Malnutrition Each Year. Here Are 6 Ways You Can Help

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