Ivory Coast Cocoa Growers Risk Attacks in Return to Farms

Cocoa farmers in western Ivory Coast who fled recent attacks on their villages are beginning to return to the plantations, fearing their beans may be stolen or damaged, according to growers in the area.

“I’m afraid of the attacks but I had no choice but to come back to take care of my farm,” said Salam Zongo, a farmer with a four-hectare (9.9-acre) plantation in Saho, a village attacked on June 8. Seven United Nations peacekeepers, one Ivorian soldier and at least 10 civilians were killed in the ambushes.

The fighting near Ivory Coast’s border with Liberia is extending a decade of conflict in the world’s top cocoa producer, which started with a mutinous uprising of soldiers in 2002 that left the country divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south. At least 3,000 people were killed in five months of violence that followed a disputed election in November 2010.

The armed group behind this month’s attacks has a base on the Liberian side of the Cavally River that serves as a border between the two countries, according to Losseni Fofana, the army commander in charge of security in western Ivory Coast. The group comprises Ivorian militia members and Liberian mercenaries, he said this week, following a June 17 clash between Ivorian soldiers and Liberian gunmen.

As many as 2,730 displaced people are in the town of Tai and 7,000 have taken refuge in Para, according to an e-mailed statement yesterday from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“A timid return has been observed in the past few days,” Anouk Desgroseilliers, a spokeswoman for office, said in an interview in Tai. “People are still moving a lot.”

Stolen Crop

Farmer Lamine Ouedraogo left his six-hectare cocoa farm on June 9 and took refuge at his brother’s home in Tai. “The harvest may be stolen or may have deteriorated, but I don’t see myself or my family returning,” he said in an interview. “It’s too dangerous.”

Ivory Coast’s cocoa farmers are reaping their light, or mid-season crop, which produces smaller beans than the October-to-May main harvest. Cocoa for July delivery fell 0.2 percent to 1,536 pounds ($2,415) a metric ton by 11:24 a.m. on the NYSE Liffe exchange in London.

“A lot of camps of farmers are still totally empty,” said Alassane Sogodogo, manager of a cocoa cooperative based in Para. “If the security issue is not fixed soon, it may also endanger the harvest as some farmers may not come back,” he said.

Troop Reinforcement

Some refugees have had to move locations as many as six times in the past 10 months, said Jocelyn Brousseau, the Danish Refugee Council’s coordinator in western Ivory Coast.

“They’re divided between their will to go back to keep working on their farms and risk their lives,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Ivory Coast’s army, the Forces Republicaines de Cote d’Ivoire, have reinforced its troop numbers in the area, the military’s Fofana said on June 18 in an interview in Para.

“Ivorian and Liberian authorities need to step up the cooperation of our armies along the border to secure the region,” he said.

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