Côte d’Ivoire: Certification makes cocoa attractive and boosts farmers’ incomes (IRIN)

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Tens of thousands of Ivorian cocoa farmers are signing up to certification schemes. One of these is Olivier Abeyao, from Abengourou in the east of the country.

He says, “Before planting, we used to burn the fields, but we’ve been taught that it’s not good. So we stopped and now only use machetes to prepare the fields.” Mr. Abeyao now also plants between ten and eighteen trees per hectare. These provide shade in his cocoa fields.

Eric Servat is the senior manager of Rainforest Alliance’s cocoa and spices program. He says, “The aim of Rainforest Alliance is to create value for cocoa-producing communities.” More than 80,000 Ivorian cocoa farmers are enrolled in Rainforest Alliance’s certification program. This program requires producers to adopt specific farm and environmental management practices. The practices aim to sustain long-term production.

Farmers are trained how to reduce their use of pesticides, curb soil erosion and better protect their water supplies. The practices boost their yields and income, and the certification scheme makes their cocoa more attractive to foreign buyers.

Certified produce is bought by cocoa exporters and chocolate firms. These companies retain part of the premium that farmers like Mr. Abeyao earn from certified cocoa. They use the funds to finance training programs provided as part of the certification scheme.

Global production of certified cocoa increased fourfold between 2009 and 2011 to reach 474,000 tonnes. Cocoa Barometer is a European network of NGOs and unions in the cocoa sector. The organization expects production to jump to 2.2 million tonnes by 2020.

The 900,000 Ivorian cocoa farmers produce 35% of the world’s harvest. Nearly one and a half million tonnes were produced in the 2011-12 season.

It is estimated that two million West African households live directly off cocoa. Though more than 20 million West Africans rely on the cocoa economy, many farmers remain in deep poverty.

Some farmers have found it difficult to find buyers for their certified cocoa. Leon Edoukou Adou is a cocoa farmer and the head of a certified co-operative in Abengourou. He says, “If you don’t have a contract with an international company, it may be difficult to sell the crop.”

M. Adou’s produce is certified by Fairtrade. He adds, “We haven’t found any buyer so we had to sell our cocoa beans as if they were regular beans, not certified.”

But other farmers have had different experiences. Theodore Guetat is the head of a cocoa co-operative of 1,100 farmers in Abengourou. He says, “The farmer gets better paid for doing a better work. It is satisfying. The quality of our production is much better.”

More farmers are switching to certified cocoa. Mr. Guetat says, “If you don’t get your production certified, it’s not certain that you’ll manage to sell your cocoa in the future.”

Mr. Abeyao earned 150,000 CFA francs (US $300) above the normal selling price in the 2011-12 growing season for his certified cocoa. He says, “Besides taking care of the environment and our health, we get a premium, which is something good for us.”