Ivory Coast reaps more rubber as farmers shift from cocoa

Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:21pm EST

* Farmers turning to rubber as stable alternative to cocoa

* Ivory Coast targets output of 600,000 T by 2020

ABIDJAN Feb 13 (Reuters) - Growing interest from local farmers helped Ivory Coast's natural rubber output reach 255,000 tonnes in 2012, up more than six percent from the previous year, the head of the its natural rubber association said on Wednesday.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower, is also Africa's leading rubber exporter with output of 240,000 tonnes in 2011 - more than half of the continent's total production.

Rising oil prices have fueled demand for natural rubber, and global production has grown steadily over the past decade, reaching around 11 million tonnes in 2011.

While Asian producers including Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia dominate world output, Ivorian farmers, frustrated by cocoa's low returns, are increasingly turning to rubber and the more stable income it provides.

"In terms of production...we are at 255,000 tonnes," said Akpangni Attobra, general secretary of the Ivorian natural rubber association, APROMAC.

"According to our projections, we will be at 270,000 tonnes in 2013, and in 2014 we will be over 300,000 tonnes. The goal is to produce 600,000 tonnes in 2020, and we think that goal will be reached," he said.

APROMAC, which supervises Ivory Coast's rubber development fund, financed the planting of 17,000 new hectares of rubber plantations in 2012, though it receieved requests for 55,000 hectares.

The association is aiming to create 20,000 hectares of new plantations this year.

"Our main problem is that we don't have enough nurseries to produce the seedlings. Demand is just too high. There is a lot of passion," said Attobra.

A recent census showed that the country now has nearly 100,000 rubber farmers.

"We're not asking the farmers to chop down their cocoa or coffee to plant rubber. On the contrary, we're telling them to keep their cocoa and do a little rubber on the side, because world commodities prices are volatile," he said.

(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Joe Bavier and William Hardy)