The cashew industry needs to map out an appropriate development strategy as cultivation areas have shrunk, delegates told a conference on sustainable development in Ho Chi Minh City last week.

According to the Vietnam Cashew Association (Vinacas), the plantation area fell from nearly 440,000ha in 2007 to 360,000ha now.

Vietnam now ranks third in the world, down one spot, and is expected to drop further to the fourth position, after India, the Ivory Coast and Brazil, Vinacas said.

Nguyen Duc Thanh, Vinacas's chairman, said the unstable price of cashew nuts and low productivity had prompted many farmers to replace their cashew trees with other industrial ones.

Although many farmers produce a high-yield cashew, the cultivation areas of this type of cashew remained small compared to the total cashew cultivation area, he said.

"Most of the cashew cultivation areas have not received proper caring techniques, and offered low yields," he said.

"Vietnam has processed about one million metric tonnes of raw cashew nuts a year, but domestic production has met only 50 percent of the demand."

It annually imports about 500,000 tonnes of raw cashews from other countries, of which imports from African countries accounted for 300,000 tonnes, he said.

At a cashew buyers and sellers meeting in Ho Chi Minh City last week, many African raw cashew suppliers also called on Vietnamese firms to invest in processing the nut in their countries. African countries, as a result, would limit the exports of raw cashew in the future, making it hard for local processing firms to import the raw materials, Thanh said.

Hoang Quoc Tuan, director of the Agriculture Planning Centre, said the cashew industry must change its development outlook.

"Previously, we thought that cashew trees should be plant in areas that are not suitable to plant other trees. This should be changed, just cultivate it at suitable areas," he said.

In addition, advanced science and technology should be used in cashew cultivation to improve productivity and product quality, he said.

Nguyen Trong Thua, head of the Agro-Forestry Processing and Salt Industry Department, said the cashew industry, which is one of nine major farm production industries, would be restructured under the general policy of the agricultural industry.

The cashew industry must focus more on more research to create seedlings with a high productivity, he said.

Localities should develop zoning plans for cashew cultivation areas and help farmers with planting techniques and other support to increase incomes for farmers, which would contribute to ensure a stable material zone for the cashew industry, he said.

Vietnam expects to export about 250,00 tonnes of cashew nut this year for a value of 1.55 billion USD. Including the exports of cashew kernel oil, export revenue could top more than 1.8 billion USD, Thanh said.-VNA