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Ivorian cocoa sector makes good strides in sustainable production

 Ivorian cocoa sector makes good strides in sustainable production

Agriculture has become a mainstay of Côte d’Ivoire’s economy contributing nearly a quarter to its GDP, but a revamped strategy looks set to ramp that up further over the coming years.

The agricultural sector, which is dominated by products such as cocoa, coffee, cashew nuts and cotton, accounts for at least 50% of the West African nation’s exports and is estimated to support between 60-70% of jobs in the country.

Reforms have already been made in order to make the market sustainable and ensure revenues are more stable through the introduction of a forward auction market. The system was introduced in 2011 by the Conseil Café Cacao (CCC), which manages the regulation and development of the coffee and cocoa sector and replaced the previous system of spot sales, and sees grinders and exporters bidding for export licenses for 70-80% of the country’s output.

“When the current president came into office, he asked for the coffee and cocoa sectors to be reformed. And, amongst other objectives, he guaranteed to secure revenue for the producers, so that they would get at least 60% of the market price,” explains Traoré, the CCC’s Managing Director.

This performance keeps Côte d’Ivoire on the first position on the African chart of cocoa producing countries and the second in the world after Indonesia. This is certainly good news given the dwindling fortunes of the sector in past years where farmers dumped cocoa production in favour of food crops which they could eat and readily sell. The performance is however not good enough to maximize global opportunities for the sustainability of the sector both to farmers and the country's economy.

The economic lifespan of cocoa trees varies from 25 to 40 years, depending on the variety. At the age of 40 the tree productivity is low compared to 10 years of age (cocoa productivity follows a bell shape distribution function). A transplanted tree requires 4 years to produce fruit. It is different from variety to variety, but on average, the first harvest is almost negligible, although grows exponentially until about 10 years of age, then begins to decline at about 20 years of age.

Other reasons of lower productivity are high prevalence of diseases like mirids and brown pod rot (fungal attacks on cocoa pods that could account for up to 50% loss in production), and the low use of pesticides and fertilizers due to limited access to credit. However, it is doubtful that the use of fertilizers at this stage can improve the situation. Fertilizers are rather used to raise soil fertility, which may not affect the plant’s physiology.

Among the social factors that led to the under productivity was the physical old age of the cocoa farmers as a result of rural-urban exodus of youths and the lack of attention and maintenance of the farms due to extended periods of low market prices for cocoa beans.

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