After training at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the École de Guerre Économique de Paris (EGE), a career start on Wall Street and experience as a senior trader at the Conseil café-cacao de Côte d’Ivoire, Mehmet Issa N’Diaye is now at the head of BlackPearl, a company based in Abidjan and specialized in strategic consulting, investment and fundraising. For Ressources, this fine connoisseur of the cocoa sector and its challenges has agreed to speak without any wooden tongue about the burning news of West African beans, proposing avenues for reflection and action that go beyond the beaten track. Maintenance
Resources: What do you think of the recent decision by Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to finally lift the suspension of sales of the 2020/2021 cocoa harvest?
Mehmet Issa N’Diaye: In cocoa, as elsewhere, history repeats itself: what is currently happening already happened in 1979 and at the end of the 1980s with the « Cocoa War ». The general impression is that we are in reactivity rather than proactivity. The turnaround of CCC and Cocobod was predictable: stopping sales is not a good tactic, because we are talking about perishable convenience. Admittedly, the market may shudder under the effect of announcements and prices rise temporarily, but if we keep this cocoa too long, it eventually depreciates and must be resold at a lower price. This initiative was all the less likely to have a lasting influence on the market as manufacturers have so-called buffer stocks, stored in Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which cover one to one and a half years of production and represent the equivalent of 2.5-3 million tonnes. You can’t manage cocoa the way you manage oil. From this perspective, the idea of a « Cocoa OPEC » does not seem to me to be viable in the long term. It would be better to opt for a « De Beers du chocolat », as I mentioned in an article published three years ago in Jeune Afrique. Indeed, we are not dealing with a vital commodity – chocolate remains a luxury product – unlike oil, which we need every day. It is necessary to take into account not only the nature of the raw material, but also its chemical properties. Under the best conditions, cocoa will keep for three to three and a half years, while oil has a shelf life of millions of years. So from a purely speculative point of view, we do not have the same levers for action. I think that instead of limiting ourselves to a bean retention policy that has already proven twice as risky, it would be more interesting to opt for all-round processing, focusing for example on primary processing (cocoa mass), which requires neither far-reaching resources nor ultra-specialized know-how. Secondly, good plantation identification policies must be put in place, because – and this is no secret to anyone – a significant amount of cocoa comes from classified forests. According to some sources, it is close to the total Ghanaian production. The recent quantitative boom in Ivorian cocoa is due to the exploitation of the reserved areas that were planted during the crisis and have reached maturity in recent years. We should therefore think about destroying these plots, reforesting them, and ensuring that people stop creating plantations all over the place. More generally, the sector should be rethought, capitalising on the achievements of the cocoa reform undertaken in 2012. In particular, cooperatives could be structured in such a way that farmers could benefit from a minimum income, social security, insurance or even wider access to finance. Finally, it must be noted that the policy of taxation on cocoa, through parafiscal levies, greatly affects the competitiveness of the product. I would add to conclude that international trade is not a balance of power, but rather a win-win relationship where everyone must be able to benefit.