New Telegraph

Cashew: Nigeria urged to take advantage of $4bn citric acid market

With global value of citric acid expected to reach $4 billion in 2027, Nigeria has been urged to extract more economic value out of cashew by using their wastes to produce citric acid. A lecturer in Food Science, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Adeoye O. Adekunle (PhD), disclosed this to New Telegraph in an interview. He said Nigeria, being the sixth largest producer of cashew nuts globally, exported over 80 per cent of its raw cashews primarily to Vietman and India, where they are processed into various consumer products such as butter, food and cosmetic ingredients. He explained that it was time Africa’s most populous nation to extract more economic value out of cashew by using their wastes to produce citric acid.

According to him, cashew is a tropical tree cultivated for its fruit (cashew nut) and pseudofruit (cashew apple). The nut is the major reason for planting cashew – it is very nutritious. The fleshy “apple” part yields a juice which is high in vitamins and minerals. Adekunle said: “The juice is high in anti-nutrients too. These are compounds that prevent the body from absorbing nutrients. They also make the juice less palatable. Because of this, cashew apples are mostly discarded.

The apple pulp, shell and liquid from the shell are all wasted or underutilised. Yet, these are valuable materials and they can be improved by biotechnology. “We’ve been conducting work into the potential of producing citric acid from cashew juice. It was the first effort globally to produce citric acid from cashew juice. Citric acid is widely used to preserve blood, drugs and processed foods and drinks. Its global value is expected to reach $4 billion in 2027. “We used cashew from Ogbomoso, south west Nigeria, an area that produces some of the best cashew nuts in Nigeria.” Speaking further, the don noted that Nigeria currently harvests 200,000 to 240,000 metric tons of raw cashew nuts each year, with about 85 per cent of this exported. “Nigeria’s no different to other African countries that export the bulk of their production as raw cashew nuts.

“Africa, with production of 2,334,405 tons, is the world’s largest producer and exporter of raw cashew nuts, accounting for more than 50 per cent of production. He added, “Between 2000 and 2018, world trade in raw cashew nuts more than doubled to 2.1 million tons, and African producers — led by Côte d’Ivoire — accounted for almost two-thirds of the growth. In 2020, trade in cashew nuts was worth $6.87 billion. “Cashew farming contributes about N24 billion (about $58 million) to the Nigerian economy annually. It employs more than 600,000 people.” On how the cashew sector can be improved on, Adekunle said: “The sector could do more.

Our work shows that citric acid can be produced from cashew apple juice, which is abundant in Nigeria. “Domestic production would save Nigeria $31 million a year in foreign exchange, based on citric acid imports for 2020. “In addition, Nigeria can produce citric acid from cashew apple juice by using biotechnology — the science of using biological processes to produce valuable materials and services.

“For instance, man makes use of some bacteria to convert milk to yoghurt. Yeast is used in producing bread via biotechnology. Biotechnological products were valued at $752.88 billion in 2020 with projected growth of 15.83 per cent for 2021—2028.” On turning cashew waste into wealth, the food and science lecturer stressed: “Cashew wastes, too, can be turned to wealth by creating new products. “For instance, cashew nut shell liquid produces chemicals that can be used in the making of paints, varnishes, agrochemicals and medicines. Shell and pulp are used through biotechnology to produce animal feeds and bioethanol. Biotechnology can also turn the juice into drinks and ethanol.” On conversion of citric acid from cashew, he stated: “In our efforts to add value to cashew, we focused on the underutilised cashew apple juice and aimed to test the possibility of producing citric acid from the juice. “The demand for citric acid is growing because of its usefulness in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. New sources of nutrients are needed to grow microorganisms that produce citric acid.”

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