Mehmet Issa N’Diaye: « We must think differently about the cocoa policy in Côte d’Ivoire »

R : Finally, the authorities seem to prioritize exogenous causes that are difficult to control, whereas there are various endogenous factors that affect the sector (additional costs of domestic marketing, heavy taxation imposed by the State, low productivity and degradation of the national orchard, lack of supervision of growers, etc.) on which they could act. Isn’t that where we should start?

M.I.N.: There have been initiatives, such as the reform implemented in 2012-2013, but whose beneficial impact has finally run out of steam. At the national level, there is a considerable amount of information and tools available to make cocoa a real lever of wealth and inclusive development. There is a lot of groundwork to do, a whole ecosystem to set up and several preliminary questions to ask. For example, what is expected of the cocoa industry in the next ten, fifteen, twenty years? How is the risk associated with domestic and international operators mitigated? How are existing risk hedging tools used? Which cocoa market should be set up in the perspective of a transition from the CFA franc to the ECO (new single currency of the fifteen ECOWAS countries scheduled to enter into force on 1 July 2020, Editor’s note), of which Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana will be an integral part? What exactly is the job of a planter and under what conditions do we want to make it live and work? What position should the State occupy within the productive apparatus? What quality of cocoa is being targeted? What impact do we want to have on the economy and society? What does Côte d’Ivoire plan to do in the next twenty years? Does it want to remain a simple bean producer and, forgive me for saying so, finally make a living from harvesting, or does it want to become an industrialized country with full control of its market? Finally, how can we explain the fact that there is no national school or institute training in the many cocoa professions in this country, nor a bank specialising in financing this raw material, as is the case in the Gulf States with oil?

R. : Indeed, it sometimes seems as if Côte d’Ivoire is relying a little on its status as the world’s leading producer. Isn’t this attitude risky in the long run? In particular, it seems that some industrialists, anxious to diversify their sources of supply and avoid excessive taxation, are working to restore the taste of Ivorian cocoa, which is very neutral and therefore ideal for blends, from various origins, particularly Asian.

M.I.N.: That’s right. In addition, extremely detailed studies are currently being carried out by some large groups, which I will not name, and which now have the capacity to replace cocoa butter with shea butter, two to three times cheaper. This poses a very serious threat to the sector, because if tomorrow industrialists no longer need cocoa, the economic crisis is assured. I may surprise you, but for me, it is better to produce 1,500 tonnes at a premium of 500-1,000 pounds per tonne than to be number one by overproducing standard quality. Ivorian cocoa is so popular with industrialists because its neutral taste is a good basis for blending. The real good cocoa comes from Latin America, from Ecuador. Personally, I have always been in favour of promoting quality rather than quantity.

R. : Precisely, the production of so-called « fine flavor » cocoa has recently experienced an interesting development in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Beyond niche markets, do you think that in the long term, it is possible to set up a chocolate industry and a local market?

M.I.N.: I will surprise you again, and this opinion is only binding on me, but promoting local chocolate consumption does not seem viable to me. It’s a bit like going to France to encourage people to eat alloco1, on the pretext that bananas grow there. The consumption of chocolate is not part of our eating habits, and the few Ivorians who are an exception will rightly prefer to choose the one made in Europe, because it justifies its age-old know-how and superior taste qualities. It is not necessarily because we control the raw material that we control the finished product. There is a division of labour in world trade that can be very advantageous if you know how to specialize. Asians have understood this well: they started by manufacturing microprocessors, tires, etc., then gradually moved up the range. In my humble opinion, our priority should be to control our national production, to ensure that cocoa revenues are better distributed to farmers, to create a brand new mass market denominated in ECO that would generate added value, and to reduce parafiscal taxation.

1- Traditional Ivorian dish made of plantain bananas fried in palm or groundnut oil, very popular in West and Central Africa.

Read more