Ivory Coast's drive to reclaim national parks may hit cocoa output

ABIDJAN, June 13 Thu Jun 13, 2013 1:03pm EDT

ABIDJAN, June 13 (Reuters) - A drive by Ivory Coast authorities to reclaim land in national parks on which about 2,000 farmers have planted crops could hurt output of cocoa in the world's top producing nation, exporters said.

Some 100 farmers were forcefully removed from plantations last week in the cocoa-producing region of Sassandra in the south of the country after the government said it planned to reconstitute the national parks and forests.

About 50 percent Ivory Coast's 231 forest reserves covering about 4.2 million hectares have been illegally occupied by farmers. The occupations accelerated during a decade-long period of violent political unrest that ended with a civil war in 2011.

Exporters said several high-yield plantations had been created in the forests and the government's decision to destroy them would be a serious problem for cocoa production.

"From next season, we'll start seeing the initial consequences of this decision," a director of a cocoa export firm in Abidjan, who asked not to be identified, said on Thursday.

He said the impact would be felt especially in the region of San Pedro, Soubre and Sassandra because there were about 90,000 hectares of reserved forest between Sassandra and Soubre.

"The farmers are being chased out and production from that zone could be lost," he said, without giving an estimate of lost production.

Long-standing disputes over land tenure, shortages and ownership have been at the centre of some violent disputes in French-speaking west Africa's biggest economy.

President Alassane Ouattara's government has promised land reforms, but has said it would not allow illegal land occupation.

"The government has carried out investigation and has taken steps to ensure that all those illegally occupying these forests should be removed," said Ivory Coast's government spokesman Bruno Kone. (Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Anthony Barker)