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

R.: Can you tell us more about this new market you’re talking about?

M.I.N.: This is the mass market, i. e. the crushed cocoa market, which has a longer shelf life than beans when it is well stabilized and frozen, while the sugar in the beans causes their fermentation, which explains why they cannot be kept indefinitely, particularly with the temperature variations specific to Côte d’Ivoire. Why the mass? Because butter and cake (powder) are specialized products that require special know-how. Butter, in particular, is used in the manufacture of chocolate and in this respect, Europe has know-how that is difficult to compete with to date. By way of comparison, it is as if it were decreed that suddenly France would become a specialist in djoumgblé sauce2. However, there are recipes, traditions and techniques developed, transmitted and improved over time. In Côte d’Ivoire, no one will want a djoumgblé sauce made in France. On the other hand, if France tells us « We supply you with grilled okra », that’s no problem, because it’s a raw material. The same reasoning can be applied to cocoa. To date, there is no international mass reference market as there is for cocoa beans. So, instead of taking London and its pound sterling as reference points, now that we are talking about ECO, why not take advantage of this historic opportunity to create a whole new market that African producing countries – Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the lead – would totally control and from which they would derive real added value, on the same model as Malaysia with raw palm oil? Other advantages of this system would be to avoid the surtax, since companies already exist, as well as tax mechanisms (BIC – Industrial and commercial profits -, income tax, etc.) to compensate for parafiscal levies, but also to avoid currency leakage, since there would only be one currency in which the assets are denominated, in which any transaction would have to take place. We can imagine a reference market in Abidjan or Accra, which would determine and pay the right price to farmers, thus ensuring them a guaranteed minimum income. Local and international factories would be provided and the number of intermediaries involved in the cocoa value chain would be reduced. The establishment of such a market is an eminently political choice, but it would in any case provide a considerable strategic advantage, as well as a significant lever of pressure at the international level.

2- A sauce from central Côte d’Ivoire made from dried and crushed okra.

R.: The latest World Bank report proposes three main orientations to optimize the cocoa sector: adoption of an effective monitoring and forecasting system; improvement of the national orchard; and increase in the value added captured. What do you think and what solutions would you recommend on your side, in addition to the establishment of a mass market?

M.I.N.: The World Bank mentions some very important points, including crop identification and forecasting. This is indeed the basis of any policy to improve the sector. Personally, I am a strong supporter of the system in Ghana, where the state protects farmers by buying production directly from them, without going through the middlemen who bypass the system and push farmers, without recourse and generally underpaid. This implies, of course, knowing all the plantations, their age, varieties and farmers. Another interesting strategy would be to set up large regional ridges. There are only thirteen regional delegations in Côte d’Ivoire, so two or three large ridges could be set up with clearly identified, well paid and protected members. In fact, it is no more and no less than to bring production into the formal world, moving from a gathering agriculture to an industrial agriculture. Secondly, there is nothing to prevent the authorities from providing each region with a mass cocoa processing unit, the ownership of which would be shared between the State, the umbrella companies and the industrialists, in a win-win partnership. This system would make it possible, among other things, to develop PGIs (Protected Geographical Indication) and obtain a premium differentiated by region, which would maintain emulation and production quality, according to market preferences. Once this industry is in place, it would then be possible to focus on derivatives, but with a clear identification and targeting of the real needs of the local and regional markets. Once again, this opinion is only binding on me and I may be wrong, but I think that chocolate is not what we need in Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa. In my opinion, it would be better to focus on processing into derivatives with a proven deficit or real utility. For example, Côte d’Ivoire produces 8 million tonnes of pods (beans represent about 20% of the total pod mass, NDLR) that rot in the fields and are, according to some studies, vectors of orchard diseases caused by pests, including swollen shoot. However, these 8 million tonnes represent a quantity of organic mass that could potentially feed biomass power plants with a capacity of 100 to 150 MW, be used in the manufacture of fertilizers, or be used as biofuel, knowing that the dehydrated pod has a higher calorific value than coal. The same applies to beans for the manufacture of biofuels and other products… Everything can be exploited in cocoa and there are many avenues for research, provided that resources are made available to explore them and that a public procurement policy ensures the viability of these new sectors for at least some time, which would also enable farmers to benefit from additional sources of income. To this end, there are experienced researchers at the Laboratoire national d’appui au développement agricole (LANADA), who produce fabulous results.

R. : Overall, we have the impression of a rather short-term vision….

M.I.N.: I sincerely believe that the State initiated a major reform in 2011, which has enabled Côte d’Ivoire to relaunch its production and refocus its sector. However, today, it needs a new lease of life and must be modernised. This is a fundamental task that requires real political will and, above all, time. That is why we dare to hope that the various points mentioned above will stimulate a real debate on the cocoa policy to be pursued in Côte d’Ivoire, and will make it possible to think more « out of the box », as the English speakers say.