Monday, December 03, 2007

The Bitter Taste of Cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire


The Bitter Taste of Cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

BINAO, Southern Côte d'Ivoire, Dec 3, 2007 (IPS) - Hacking his way through the lush forest with a machete, his rubber boots sinking into the moist earth, Lambert Kwame surveys the plot of land that his family has worked for over 30 years, harvesting cocoa.

"We know that the national price for cocoa is very high," Kwame says, as he stands under a fecund canopy about an hour north of Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, Abidjan. Fat orange and yellow cacao pods from which cocoa beans are extracted cling to the trees. "But the obstacles set up between the farmers and the harbour take all the profit that we could make from the crop."

Hundreds of beans from Kwame's cocoa crop lie drying in the sun on a modest wooden stand before his home, along the highway that leads to Abidjan. For this harvest he will be paid about 90 cents per kilogramme by middlemen who will sell it to international exporters in Abidjan.

Côte d'Ivoire is the world's largest producer of cocoa, a distinction that remained even during the political crisis that has engulfed this West African country over recent years (a 2002-2003 civil war sparked by political and economic instability, as well as tensions over regional discrimination and immigration, led to Côte d'Ivoire being split into government and rebel zones). The nation's crop currently accounts for nearly 40 percent of global cocoa production.

Cocoa is also Côte d'Ivoire's main export, representing some 35 percent of goods sent abroad. This translates into about 1.4 billion dollars of revenue annually in the south, controlled by the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, according to official figures. In the northern sector, overseen by the rebel New Forces (Forces Nouvelles, FN), yearly cocoa revenues are thought to hover around 30 million dollars.

In addition, up to four million of Côte d'Ivoire's 17 million inhabitants work in some aspect of the cocoa trade.

But, concern been growing for several years as to how revenues generated by the crop are used by the maze of overlapping and often opaque organisations set up by both the government and rebels to manage cocoa.

Read the full article here.

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