Striking Ivory Coast cocoa growers threaten to block deliveries

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Top cocoa producer Ivory Coast’s largest growers’ union called on its members on Monday to strike and threatened to block port deliveries in response to low prices and warehouse backlogs.

A farmer works on a cocoa farm in Bobia, Gagnoa, Ivory Coast, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon//File Photo

More than 100,000 tonnes of cocoa beans are piled up in farm warehouses because of a demand slump during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting some farmers to sell below the guaranteed farm gate price.

The National Association of Ivorian Producers (ANAPROCI), which has about 600,000 members, and two other agricultural unions are also calling for the resignation of the director-general of the Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC).

The CCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters. Growers held small demonstrations at CCC offices in Soubre, Daloa and the capital Yamoussoukro, farmers said.

“The strike ... will intensify in the coming days in all the growing regions. In a few days, we plan to stop all commercial activities in the interior of the country and prevent cocoa deliveries to the ports,” ANAPROCI chairman Koffi Kanga said.

CCC Director-General Yves Brahima Kone said in a weekend interview on national television that the situation was the result of the pandemic, which has weakened demand for chocolate in major export markets including Europe, Asia and the United States.

“After the first wave, everyone had hopes that trade would resume normally. We sold 80% of the harvest, then the second wave hit,” Kone said, urging farmers to keep their beans for now.

Some exporters in Ivory Coast also blamed the implementation of the $400 a tonne Living Income Differential (LID) scheme this season. The LID is part of a wider plan to combat poverty among farmers in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together account for more than 60% of global supply.

Chocolate makers have said they support efforts to relieve farmer poverty, but traders have said the plan could lead to surplus production and might eventually prompt them to seek cheaper sources of supply.

“Ivory Coast cocoa is much too expensive compared to other origins,” a director of an Abidjan based cocoa exporting firm, who requested anonymity, said.

Writing by Bate Felix and Aaron Ross; Editing by Jane Merriman and Alexander Smith