April 25, 2018 / 3:05 PM / 6 months ago

Facing low cocoa prices, Ivory Coast stops helping farmers boost yields

ABIDJAN, April 25 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast will stop distributing hybrid seedlings and other advanced technologies that help cocoa farmers improve yields to cut overproduction that has weighed on cocoa prices, according to a letter by the regulator sent to exporters.

“We inform you of our decision to suspend the distribution of improved plant material — seeds, plant cutting and cloning, plant tissue culture — as well as projects to improve productivity led by private sector actors,” the Cocoa and Coffee Council (CCC) wrote in a letter to the exporters’ association GEPEX on April 18, which reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday.

It was not made public.

Output in Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, rose to a record 2 million tonnes in the 2016-17 season, from 1.2 million 10 years earlier.

A saturated market caused world cocoa prices to drop by over 40 percent last season.

Some of this was owing to better yields, but most of it was because of a huge expansion of cocoa farms into protected areas and national parks, which now grow some 40 percent of output, according to the forest authority.

“We would be grateful if you could forward this information to all your members who implement certification and sustainability projects,” the CCC said in its letter.

This is the second time the marketing board has spoken out against the distribution of high-yielding hybrid species.

In March, it wrote a letter to the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) calling on chocolate-makers to halt their distribution. Sources said it sought to cut production to between 1.6 and 1.7 million tonnes per season over three years.

The marketing board’s actions run counter to international efforts to stop growing cocoa in protected forests.

Last year, Ivory Coast and major chocolate companies from Mars to Hershey to Barry Callebaut pledged to eliminate the production and sourcing of cocoa from these forests.

Stamping out deforestation in the cocoa supply chain is just one of the commitments made by the world’s chocolate makers to make the industry more sustainable, along with finding ways to end child labour and boost farmers’ incomes.

Chocolate-makers, trading companies and grinders have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into certified and sustainable cocoa production. The programmes are designed to improve quality and yields through good agricultural practices free from pesticides, chemicals and child labour.

Although the programmes have helped millions of Ivorian small-scale growers, who farm between one and five hectares of cocoa each, the CCC says they have contributed to overproduction.

“The chocolate industry pushes us to overproduce with these programmes, and this negatively affects prices. We want to control our output, and that means stopping these programmes,” a senior source at the CCC told Reuters.

Over ninety percent of Ivory Coast’s cocoa beans are of the top-quality good fermented grade. Industry sources say more than 400,000 tonnes of last season’s top grade cocoa was produced on certified and sustainable farms. (Editing by Sofia Christensen, Tim Cocks and Jane Merriman)

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