Every second dark chocolate that you eat is made of cocoa beans produced in this small West African country of Côte d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast as we know it. Nearly half of the world’s cocoa production happens here, making it a key stakeholder in the global chocolate industry, a thriving business in the American and European markets.
Any volatility in production in this country could adversely impact the chocolate prices around the world. A situation like this would have put farmers in a commanding position. But that’s not to be.
Ask N,’Koh Ambroise, a cocoa farmer at Abey Benigni village which is 40 km away from the country’s financial capital Abidjan, how he feels about the recent increase of 11 per cent in cocoa procurement prices, he would smile. “It’s good. I will be happier if it is more,” he says, echoing the feeling of thousands of small-holder farmers in the country.
To avoid a glut and subsequent price crash, the country, which produces about 2.2 million tonnes out of the global output of 4.9 mill tonnes, has capped the production for the year.
The country’s cocoa regulator, Le Conseil du Cafe-Cacao, increased the procurement prices to 1,000 francs (West African CFA Franc) for the current year from 900 francs last year.
The country’s Prime Minister Patrick Achi too acknowledges the price parity between the cocoa beans and the chocolates that are sold at a premium. At the 50th anniversary of the International Cocoa Organisation recently, he told consuming countries that a paradigm shift was required to bring cheers to farmers and benefit the cocoa farmers.
The prices of cocoa beans remained stagnant over the last 50 years at around $2 a kg
While the prices of cocoa beans remained stagnant over the last 50 years at around $2 a kg, there was a tenfold increase in the chocobar prices to $70 a kg during the period, reflecting the raw deal that farmers are getting.
Realising that they can help farmers get a better deal by promoting value addition, the country is in the process of increasing the processing capacities, besides encouraging local entrepreneurs to produce chocolates themselves. The country’s cocoa regulator, is in the process of identifying newer markets in Asia and the Gulf and wants the countries to procure cocoa products directly from the country and encourage their local chocolate production.
The regulator is helping a small set of local entrepreneurs, most of them hailing from cocoa farm families, to set up chocolate-making units. Viviane Kouame, who is one among the 10 entrepreneurs groomed by the regulator, is very confident that she can make a mark in the chocolate world, which is dominated by multinational companies in the US and Europe. Trained in the making of exquisite chocolates, these entrepreneurs are building a value chain, which is being called as tree-to-bar, establishing linkages with farmers.
Transcao, a company set up by the regulator, is leading the country’s indigenous processing and product innovation efforts. The biggest challenge is that the beans are to be processed within 45 days of their harvest.
“We are setting up two processing facilities with a production capacity of 50,000 tonnes each. China is investing about 300 million euros,” Coulibaly Konan Theodre, Director General of Transcao, said.
The country is also mindful of the criticism that the farms are employing child labour and is in the process of addressing it.
(The writer was in Ivory Coast at the invitation of the country’s cocoa regulator Le Conseil du Cafe-Cacao)