Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest producer of the chocolate ingredient, are banking on industry changes to boost incomes and improve the harvest in the West African nation.
“With a stable and guaranteed price, the farmers will be able to focus on quality, not only on quantity,” said Amara Soumahoro, head of the branch of Coeada, a Daloa-based cooperative in the western village of Gonate. “Everybody would win.”
Ivory Coast announced a series of changes to its cocoa industry last year in a bid to boost production, including a plan to pay farmers 50 percent to 60 percent of the international market price. Growers’ earnings often fall short of the indicative rate, meant to be a benchmark for buyers, which will be scrapped. It was set this year at 1,000 CFA francs ($1.95) per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Higher earnings mean producers would be more able to invest in their farms, including spending on fertilizers and pesticides that may improve yields, said Soumahoro.
“Most of the farmers we are working with agree with the reforms,” he said.
Amidou Sanna, a 26-year-old farmer of a three-hectare (7.4-acre) plot in the western village of Sokolaye, said he fetches not more than 500 francs for a kilogram of his beans. “A guaranteed price will be a very good thing for us,” he said in an interview Jan. 10 on his farm.
Sanna’s farm has produced about 800 kilograms of cocoa so far in the 2011-2012 crop harvest, similar to the previous season. “The production has been fine so far but it doesn’t rain enough at the moment,” he said. “I am a bit worried for the future.”
President Alassane Ouattara, who won a disputed November 2010 election that led to a five-month violent conflict, pledged to make cocoa-industry changes a priority.
“Farmers should get the fair share of what they produce,” he said in an interview in New York in September. His administration announced the changes on Nov. 2.
Ouattara’s party won a majority in the country’s legislature last month, paving the way for the cocoa-industry revisions, which include a plan to sell as much as 80 percent of the country’s cocoa harvest before the start of each season.
The amount might be too high at first, said Amoikou Boi, a farmer in the eastern town of Abengourou, who said he supports the idea.
“It would be better to start with 50 percent of the crop, and see what are the benefits for the farmers,” Boi said by phone yesterday. “Then, if it works, we can go pre-sell more of the crop.”