Cocoa prices at the farm gate in Ivory Coast are falling sharply and farmers are fast running out of money, with potentially damaging consequences for the cocoa mid-crop, according to farmers.
Farmers said yesterday that they were stocking their cocoa beans in the hope they could preserve them long enough to sell when the political crisis was over, but that there was little enthusiasm for tending to the April to September mid-crop.
A one-month cocoa export ban imposed by presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara is meant to starve his rival Laurent Gbagbo of funds, and is backed by Western powers and African leaders who see Ouattara as president-elect, after a November 28 poll Gbagbo refuses to concede. Buying has drastically dropped.
Ouattara has indicated he might extend it next week, but even if he does not, EU sanctions on the pro-Gbagbo ports mean there are few ships to deliver it.
In the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, farmers said they were not able to pay their workers to maintain their farms and the mid-crop would therefore fall.
“We are in a crucial phase where we need to care for, clean and treat the cocoa trees. But we don’t have any money to pay workers to do this or buy agri-chemicals,” said farmer Innocent Zamble, who farms in Meagui.
The mid-crop makes up about 200 000 tons of Ivory Coast’s total annual 1.2 million ton crop.
In the western region of Gagnoa, farmers and co-operative managers said few local buyers were collecting beans in the bush at 350 CFA francs (R5.24) a kilogram, down from 400 CFA francs the previous week, and less than half the 950 CFA francs they were being bought at before the crisis.
“The situation is becoming more and more difficult. There’s a lot of fear among the buyers, whose buying prices are way down,” said co-operative manager Francois Badiel.
“Since most farmers have not been able to sell their beans, they are drying and stocking them in the hope that the situation will become normal.”
The ban and a cash liquidity shortage have stalled the cocoa sector. Banks are running out of money since west Africa’s central bank severed ties with Gbagbo.
In the southern region of Divo, farmers said economic activity was slowing.
In the region of Daloa, farmer Aka Marcel said if the situation persisted many farmers would abandon their plantations before the next mid-crop. – Reuters