Cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire are bearing the brunt of a ban on the export of cocoa beans. On January 23 this year, Alassane Ouattara called for a month-long ban on cocoa and coffee exports. His aim is to starve Laurent Gbagbo of the funds that are keeping him in power.
In the presidential elections in late 2010, Alassane Ouattara was proclaimed the winner. But incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo is refusing to leave office.
The European Union, along with the United Nations and the African Union, recognizes Alassane Ouattara as the rightful winner. The EU has imposed financial sanctions on institutions seen as backing Mr. Gbagbo in an effort to force him to leave office. EU-registered vessels are barred from docking at the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro. Multi-national companies have suspended cocoa purchases.
Blaise Ouraga is a farmer from the cocoa belt of San Pedro. He says, “Growing conditions this year have been ideal for a good harvest.” But, he adds, the cost of transport and food has risen in the last couple of months. According to Mr. Ouraga, “A ban is the latest headache.”
At first, many farmers supported the ban. Maurice Savadogo is a cocoa farmer in the eastern town of Abengourou. He says, “The majority of us are smallholders from the north or centre of the country. These are the people who feel the ban is all part of the process of a revolution.”
But other farmers are protesting the ban. A number of farmers burned a dozen bags of cocoa outside the EU offices in Abidjan. They are asking the EU to lift the ban, arguing that the post-election crisis is not the fault of the growers. Blandine Gloudoueu is a cocoa producer from Duékoué, a city in the west part of the country. She attended the protest. She asks, “I am just a simple producer … what do I have to do with this policy?”
Coffee and cocoa generate about 40 percent of the country’s export earnings. There are about 900,000 cocoa growers in the country, and an estimated six million Ivoirians rely on cocoa production to survive.
Farmers are already having problems financing and storing the next crop, due to be harvested between April and May. Warehouses are overflowing with unexported supplies. Local and international banks are no longer trading or financing cocoa purchases.
Some growers say they will seek new buyers in China or Russia. Others feel they must sell for half the price recommended by the coffee and cocoa board. Fulgence N’Guessan is president of the Union of Cooperatives of Côte d’Ivoire. He explains, “Farmers don’t have the conditions to keep beans for more than about three weeks. Some prefer to sell at a low price rather than risk not being able to sell mouldy beans at all later.”
Other farmers are threatening to burn their cocoa. Zabi Youan is a grower from Vavoua. He warns, “I will burn my produce. Because I can’t fathom selling my produce for paltry sums, considering all the hard work I put into it.”
Whatever happens, cocoa beans are likely to find a way out of the country. Traders and analysts believe that cocoa will cross into the neighbouring countries of Ghana, Liberia and, through Burkina Faso, into Togo. Kona Haque is an agricultural commodities analyst in London. She predicts, “We are going to see a big jump in smuggling.”
Mr. Savadogo, the cocoa farmer supporting the ban, says, “… if the ban is extended until March, things will be enormously difficult for us. At the end of the day we are just planters; we feel very vulnerable.”
Cocoa prices are rising sharply. As it becomes more difficult to get the beans out of Cote d’Ivoire, traders are paying premium prices. This week Ouattara announced an extension of the export ban until March 10. Following the announcement, cocoa prices reached their highest level in 32 years. Many predict a social and economic disaster if the ban and the political crisis continue.
Here is some further reading on this issue:
Cocoa Prices Jump As Ivory Coast Extends Export Ban: http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20110222-713079.html 
Ouattara to extend Ivorian cocoa ban: spokesman: http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE71L0FE20110222?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews 
Briefing on the humanitarian situation: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=91922 
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