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Posted on Thursday, 25 July 2013 09:50

Agribusiness: Smoothing out the bumps in Côte d'Ivoire

By Olivier Monnier in Abidjan

Cocoa – here being laid to dry on reed mats – still accounts for 15% of gross domestic product/Photo©Rebecca Blackwell/AP/SIPAGreater state protection for the cocoa industry has improved quality, but some farmers are turning to rubber. Cotton and cashew production have also hit new records.

 

Reform of the cocoa sector, mapped out in 2011 and implemented in the 2012-2013 season, is a major policy priority for President Alassane Ouattara's government.

Techniques have improved, but the land is less and less fertile

The changes underway will put the state back at the heart of the sector after a dozen years of liberalisation in the world's largest cocoa-producing economy.

The government has created a single regulatory body to replace six separate structures.

It also established a minimum guaranteed price of 60% of the international price and a system of forward sales to make farmers less vulnerable to the daily price fluctuations on international markets.

Better beans

Six months after the reforms took hold, exporters and chocolate makers say the changes helped to improve the quality of the beans.

Actors in the sector seem to have respected the fixed price – higher than last year's – leading to an apparent halt in smuggling, particularly to Ghana, the world's second-largest producer.

These are positive signs for a sector where sustainability remains at risk.

Côte d'Ivoire's 900,000 cocoa farmers contribute more than 15 percent to the West African country's gross domestic product, but ageing trees, small farms and low yields, which have not increased over the past few decades, are threatening future production.

"Techniques have improved, but the land is less and less fertile," explains Frank Von Glasenapp, an agricultural consultant based in Abidjan.

The government provides free pesticides and fertiliser, but limited resources have hindered their distribution leaving many farmers to go without.

This is one reason why the agriculture ministry has announced it will set up a subsidy system for the 2013-2014 seasons. Cocoa seasons in West Africa run from October to September.

While cocoa beans bring about $1bn in foreign exchange receipts each year, many farmers say loud and clear that they are discouraged.

"It's very difficult for us to make a living from cocoa," says Leon Edoukou Adou, head of a cooperative in the town of Abengourou.

"More and more farmers are switching to rubber," which is much more profitable, Adou says.

Côte d'Ivoire's cocoa production was just less than 1.5m tn in 2011-2012, after a record production of 1.5m tn in the 2010-2011 season.

Output is set to de- cline after production fell 7.5 percent in the first three months of the current season.

The dynamics are very different for cotton and cashew farmers in the north of the country, where both crops are hit- ting record levels of production.

Cotton growers have regained hope after some difficult times over the past decade.

After the 2002 army mutiny that divided the country into a rebel-held north and a state-controlled south, farmers struggled to access the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro.

On top of that, crop seizures led many of them to abandon their farms. Output fell to 110,000tn in 2008 from 350,000tn in 2002.

The cotton is high

Since 2009, cotton production has been rising due to higher prices and the resumption of state support in the form of pesticides and fertiliser.

The government expects output to exceed pre-war levels and reach 400,000tn this year, followed by 500,000tn in 2015.

The government is planning to implement reforms for the cotton and cashew industries next year based on the changes in the cocoa industry.

Minister of agriculture Mamadou Sangafowa Coulibaly said the state will set up a single structure to regulate both crops, set a minimum guaranteed price and boost local processing.

While cashew production has skyrocketed over the past 15 years – reaching 450,000tn in 2012 from 97,000tn in 1997 and making Côte d'Ivoire the world's second-largest producer after India – quality issues and reduced demand have led to a drop in prices, forcing farmers to hold back part of their output until prices rise again. ●



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