Ivory Coast’s central town of Bouake has become a transit hub for cocoa beans that are being smuggled to northern neighbor Burkina Faso as a one-month export ban slows down shipments from the country’s southern ports.
“Every day, between 30 and 40 trucks carrying cocoa beans pass the city borders on their way to Burkina Faso,” said Siaka Coulibaly, who owns a transport business at the city’s wholesale market, where the cocoa is being stored. “They are usually 60-ton trucks,” he said by phone from Bouake yesterday. The cocoa travels through Burkina Faso and back south to the port at Lome, Togo, he added.
Trucks loaded with cocoa from Ivory Coast have arrived in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, said Hyacinthe Tiendrebeogo, manager of the inland port in the city. “I know that in the city there are stores where cocoa is stored for sending to Lome,” he said by phone today, adding that he wasn’t aware of the specific quantity of the beans.
Cocoa smuggling has risen in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest producer of the chocolate ingredient, since President-elect Alassane Ouattara on Jan. 24 ordered all exporters to halt shipments of beans that have not yet been declared for taxes. The ban was designed to cut off tax revenues to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to leave office since a disputed Nov. 28 election.
Bouake has been controled by the New Forces insurgent movement since a 2002 uprising that divided Ivory Coast into a rebel-held north and a government-run south. Despite a 2007 peace accord, the northern border between Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso is still managed by rebel officials.
Each truck that passes through Bouake is obliged to pay 75,000 CFA francs ($156) in taxes to the New Forces, Coulibaly said. The rebel group is loyal to Ouattara, who hails from the northern part of the country and earned a majority of the region’s votes in November.
“This morning I counted 12 large trucks loaded with cocoa waiting for clearance to drive on to Burkina Faso,” said Moussa Diawarra, a resident, by phone yesterday. “Sometimes we see trucks carrying coffee as well,” he added. Farmers in the eastern cocoa-growing part of the country are selling their beans to buyers in Ghana, said Bile Bile, the head of a regional farmers’ cooperative, on Feb. 8.
“The president, Alassane Ouattara, has imposed an export ban,” said Felicien Sekongo, spokesman of the New Forces movement, by phone from Bouake. “Now, if people sell cocoa beans to Ghana or Burkina Faso, all I can say is that they are not following official government guidelines, and it does not fall in any way under the responsibility of the New Forces.”
The Ghana Cocoa Board, which oversees the industry in Ivory Coast’s neighbor and the world’s second-biggest grower of the beans, worked with the country’s security forces to increase monitoring of the 668-kilometer (415-mile) border, Noah Amenyah, spokesman for the board, said by phone today. “There is no indication of foreign beans in Ghana,” he said.
Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, Ghana’s foreign affairs minister, said Ivory Coast’s illegal cocoa could affect the quality of Ghanaian beans.
“If there are restrictions on the Ivory Coast, it’s likely that smuggling that has been going on along our border will intensify and therefore you will have more Ivorian cocoa coming into Ghana,” he said in an interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 28. “It will contaminate our cocoa.”
A woman who answered the phone at the office of Ivory Coast’s national Coffee and Cocoa Management Committee declined to answer questions or give her name when called today. Enselme Gouthon, the Togolese government official responsible for cocoa exports, didn’t respond to a message left on his phone today.
March-delivery cocoa climbed for the third day, adding 42 pounds, or 2 percent, to 2,189 pounds per metric ton by 2:56 p.m. in London today.