Poor cocoa farmers in West Africa suffer, others grow - GulfToday

Poor cocoa farmers in West Africa suffer, others grow


Trees stand in a cocoa farm in West Africa. Reuters

Ivory Coast and Ghana are two of the largest producers of cocoa. In Ivory Coast it starts its journey as cacao fruit before it is turned into cocoa and finally into chocolate. The Ivory Coast farmers growing cacao are working hard, against the odds, to keep themselves alive.

The cacao is a demanding crop, requiring the right amount of heat and rain. Due to the El Nino effect, there has been a fluctuation in rainfall and increase in heat. The cacao which used to have 600 kg yield per acre has been reduced to 300 kg. The labour of the cacao farmer remains the same but its economic sustainability for the farmer and his family gets frayed.

Magne Akoua left a low-paying government job in the capital city of Abidjan, and returned to Aboude, a village to southern Ivory Coast, to take up cacao farming. Akoua, 65, who has been engaged in Cacao farming for 40 years, says. “We have to check on our fruit daily. Every three months it becomes ripe and we can harvest it. But harvest hasn’t been good at all lately.”

Lower cacao yield means lesser income for the farmers, but the international prices of cocoa shoot up, and the chocolate factories make huge profits. Oxfam, a well-known Britain-based NGO, reckons that the combined income of the three major American chocolate-makers is greater than the combined GDP of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the largest producers of cocoa.

The price disparity between cocoa in Ivory Coast and its international price at the New York Stock Exchange is huge. Ivory Coast government has fixed the price at $2.4 per kilo, which translates into $2,480 per tonne, while the NYSE price was $5,874 per tonne in the commodities market. In 2021, Ivory Coast and Ghana introduced a premium of $400 per tonne to the cacao farmers under the tag “decent income differential”. This was seen as a move to assure the farmer a minimum price.

But the issue is more complicated than fixing a fair price. Souleymane Fofana, founder of the export company, Cote d’Ivoire Commodities, explains the issue: “There are a lot of moving parts. For example, the environment’s evolution…Over time cocoa orchards age and become less productive, which makes it hard for farmers to sustain their production. Not to mention, cacao is not part of the average Ivorian’s diet. Chocolate is a luxury delicacy that most people don’t purchase. Our market remains the Western market at the end of the day.”

Fofana says that Ivory Coast cannot compete with the Western chocolate magnates because they have remained dominant market-players for a long time and have mastered the art of selling chocolate. But he feels that Ivory Coast can do better if it looks out for alternate markets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, so that exclusive dependence on the West is diminished.

This is a classic instance of the producers of raw materials in the low income countries of Asia and Africa, and the West making huge profits with the finished products, and unwilling to give a fair deal to the producers of cacao for example. But the cycle cannot be broken easily. In the case of Africa, they will have to come up with a strategy of economic development of their own, which would reduce the dependence on the Western markets. This need not necessarily mean that Ivory Coast should make more chocolate from the cacao it produces, export it and consume it more. The Ivory Coast farmers should be looking at agricultural produce that meet the needs of its own people and people in the neighbourhood.

Related articles