COTE D’IVOIRE’S move to halt the distribution of high-yielding seeds and other advanced tools to cocoa farmers could pave the way for problems with quality, more erratic production and the spread of diseases, industry sources warned.
Cote d’Ivoire recently suspended programmes aiming to increase cocoa productivity in an effort to tackle oversupply, which in 2017 drove prices to their lowest in more than nine years and slashed farmer incomes by more than a third.
The country’s output surged to a record 2 million tonnes in the 2016-17 season, from 1.2 million 10 years earlier.
Last season, it outstripped demand by about 300,000 tonnes, according to the International Cocoa Organisation.
‘We have invested a lot of money and also other resources to develop productivity,’ said one pod counter for a major chocolate maker, estimating yields rose to 800kg per hectare, from about 350kg-400kg a decade ago.
Yet, industry sources say illegal cocoa in protected forests is the main reason for the supply glut and, as a result, halting productivity efforts will fail to make a significant dent in supply, while giving rise to quality issues and disease.
‘The industry has developed the cocoa sector over the last 10 years by injecting millions of dollars,’ a Cote d’Ivoire-based-based manager at a major trade house said. ‘But also the know-how that makes it possible to have beans of excellent quality.’ Once the schemes stop, farmers are likely to turn to the informal market for seeds, sources said. This could lead to the use of poor-quality varieties, since the planting material is less likely to be vetted and verified.