Vietnam's cashew industry has witnessed strong development in recent years, but it still encounters many challenges, including a fall in planted area, according to the Vietnam Cashew Association (Vinacas) on Friday. Accordingly, the cashew industry has achieved impressive growth, making Vietnam one of the world's largest cashew exporters since 2006. Cashew exports stood at 1.47 billion U.S dollars in 2012 as the country's fourth largest agricultural exports after rice, coffee and rubber. They are expected to top 1.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2013. However, cashew industry still faces several challenges, including shrinking cultivation area and unstable output. Aging trees and abnormal weather conditions have decreased yields, and many farmers preferred other crops for higher profits, which has reduced the planted area. Statistics by the Department of Crop Production (under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) showed that the area under cashew cultivation shrank by 107,392 hectare in the past seven years to 326,037 hectare in 2012. As a result, domestic production feeds only 30 percent of processing capacity and is reducing. This requires a development strategy to enable the industry to develop in a sustainable way in the coming years, local Vietnam News quoted Nguyen Van Hoa, deputy general director of the Department as saying. A draft strategy has drawn up for the cashew industry's development for the period until 2020 by the Department, related agencies and the Vietnam Cashew Association (Vinacas), Hoa said, adding that a seminar was held in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday to discuss the strategy with scientists, businesses, farmers, and other stakeholders before submitting it to the government for approval. Under the draft development strategy, the cashew-cultivated area will remain at 300,000-320,000 hectare, producing 400,000 tons of raw cashew nuts a year and meeting 40 percent of the processing demand. The industry also plans to increase the rate of fully processed nuts to satisfy the requirements of customers and boost domestic consumption. In addition, reviewing and tweaking cashew zoning plans, replacing aged cashew trees, developing inter-cropping models, and developing high-quality seedlings and advanced farming techniques are among tasks to be soon implemented. Along with that, modern technologies and equipment should be used and products diversified to meet the increasing demand from customers. Companies should focus more on building brands and promoting their products. The government should support farmers in planting cashew trees to replace old ones, adopt policies to encourage firms investing in deep processing, and strengthen inspection of exports, the draft strategy recommended. In the first 11 months of 2013, Vietnam exported 238,000 tons of cashew worth 1.49 billion U.S. dollars, but it had to disburse 584 million dollars for the imports of raw cashew for local processing, according to the Vietnam General Statistics Office.