Côte d’Ivoire: The new cocoa campaign is not ‘in the bag’

By Baudelaire Mieu
Posted on Wednesday, 9 March 2022 08:59

Bags of cocoa at the San Pedro port, 8 January 2011. © JANE HAHN/NYT/REDUX/REA.

Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa harvest, which reached record levels, was disrupted by a shortage of jute bags. This problem is penalising the entire sector.

Côte d’Ivoire’s brown-gold industry has been on the edge for several weeks, due to a shortage of jute bags, which are used to package the beans and then transport them from the production areas to the two ports: Abidjan and San Pedro. The bags are crucial to the sector’s smooth running.

Each year, the country’s agricultural sectors use more than 30 million bags, including 15 million for the coffee, cocoa and cashew nut sectors. However, these bags are now in short supply, so much so that some multinationals have suspended their purchases.

This tense situation has been heightened by the fact that 1.65m tonnes of cocoa were harvested between 1 October 2021 and 20 February 2022, compared to 1.63m tonnes at the same time last year. Forecasts, on the other hand, had predicted a 10% drop in the harvest, following high production the previous year. Given that there is an abundance of beans – some even say overproduction – the bag shortage is felt all the more strongly.

CCC – Filtisac tensions

Several causes have been put forward to explain this phenomenon. The Conseil Café Cacao (CCC), the sector’s regulatory body, is accusing Filtisac – a subsidiary of Ivoire Promotion Services (IPS), which is owned by Aga Khan, the Ismailis’ religious leader and a wealthy businessman – of not having produced enough bags.

“Filtisac, which has a monopoly on local production, did not deliver enough, so we were forced to import 2.5 million bags to solve the problem,” says a source within the CCC’s management. However, this solution has not – for the time being – put an end to the shortage.

In an attempt to clear its name, Filtisac sent us a note, which says that it produced 21.1 million bags in 2020, 1.5 million in 2021 and that it has delivered 7 million bags to the CCC. “We have even fulfilled an additional order from the Council. The annual requirement is 10 million bags, excluding imports, as the market is free,” says Filtisac. Alongside this group, several other private players, who import the bags, ensure that the demand is fulfilled.

Impact of Covid-19

This shortage is also the result of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire’s main bag supplier, saw its production plants closed during the lockdown, which created supply problems.

There are also difficulties in the logistics chain, particularly in maritime transport, as the scarcity of containers has forced exporters to store bags of beans in the holds of boats, which no longer return to Côte d’Ivoire.

Black market

Lastly, some manufacturers have denounced the fact that some bags are being resold on the black market, as this prevents them from being returned to cocoa-producing areas.

“Once at the port, after unloading to repackage the beans, CCC agents normally recover the bags so that they can be reintroduced into the industry, but, curiously, they end up on a parallel market for another use,” says a source close to a multinational active in the sector.

In the meantime, the crop continues to pile up, while some cooperatives resort to nylon or plastic bags due to a lack of jute containers. The issue is expected to soon reach Prime Minister Patrick Achi’s desk, so that a long-term solution can be found.

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