Ivory Coast: 40% of world’s cocoa under threat of destruction

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Coffee and cocoa producers in the Ivory Coast Thursday morning torched several bags of cocoa in front of the European Union headquarters at Plateau, the business district of the capital, Abidjan. This follows a ban on coffee and cocoa exports from Côte d’Ivoire. The export freeze was imposed by Alassane Ouattara to force his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, to cede power.

A dozen cocoa bags filled to capacity were set ablaze Thursday morning in front of the European Union offices in Abidjan. Headed by Bléhoué, a so-called Chairman of industry Elders, coffee and cocoa producers expressed their frustration over the decision which they say does not work in their favor.

The group have threatened to destroy all their stocks of coffee and cocoa from last season’s harvest instead of leaving them to “rot” in the warehouses following an export freeze decreed by Dr. Alassane Ouattara.

Following the ban on exports of coffee and cocoa by Alassane Ouattarra, who was proclaimed winner of the November 28, 2010, presidential elections by the Independent Electoral Commission and recognized by the international community, multinational companies have frozen their purchases whilst the European Union has moved to put an embargo on exports. The latter has also asked European ships not to dock in the country’s main ports of Abidjan and San Pedro.

Three days ago, the producers had asked the European Union to lift the sanctions arguing that the post-election crisis was not the fault of coffee and cocoa growers.

“If they don’t want it, the Chinese will come and get it… we are fed up with the European Union.” The protesting cocoa and coffee producers want the European Union to have the ban lifted by next week or else they would dump all their cocoa beans in front of the European institution’s offices.

But, contradicting his earlier arguments over the risk of “rot”, Sansan Kouao, coffee and cocoa producer and longtime friend of President Laurent Gbagbo, said that “We do not have any problems in the bush. It can be stored (the cocoa beans) for a year or two, it does not bother us.”

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Alassane Ouattarra had declared that “Cocoa can be stored for a long time. Clearly Mr Gbagbo will be out well before the cocoa starts getting rotten”.

Consequences of a longterm embargo

Hard times call for hard measures, and some farmers in dire need need to sell their produce are finding other ways to escape the embargo, albeit at a reduced price.

But others have expressed worry over the future of their produce with some saying they prefer burning them to ashes rather than selling their cocoa and coffee beans for paltry sums.

“I will burn my produce. Because I can’t fathom selling my produce for paltry sums considering all the hard work I put into it,” said Zabi Youan, Bahoulifla, a farmer from Vavoua.

Agriculture has been the backbone of the Ivorian wealth. And coffee and cocoa, which occupy a center stage of the economy, generate about 40 per cent of the country’s export earnings.

On the international scene, 40 per cent of global cocoa supplies, valued at $4.5 billion a year at current prices, comes from the Côte d’Ivoire.

According to some industry experts, whilst an embargo could spell a long-term disaster for the country’s economic and social development, it could also be beneficial to farmers, in that prices could be increased after the lifting of the embargo as there would be a high demand for good quality Ivorian cocoa beans on the market.

As the West African country awaits a crucial decision from a panel of heads of state of the African Union after findings on the post-election crisis, on 21 February, large quantities of the cocoa production is being shipped through Ghana, the world’s second biggest cocoa producer after Côte d’Ivoire. Some are also finding their way into Burkina Faso and Mali.

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