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October 23, 2009

Small-scale Ivorian pineapple growers want more support

by Fulgence Zamblé

Karim Diabaté looks questioningly at his vast 20 hectare pineapple plantation in Bonoua in south-eastern Côte d’Ivoire. ”I’m asking myself if if I’ll get the money I need for in time for the inputs I need and keep my plants going.”

For two months, 35-year-old Diabaté has made several trips between his plantation and the local office of the Central Organisation of Producers and Exporters of Pineapples and Bananas (known by its French acronym, OCAB) in Bonoua, 50 kilometres from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital.

”I was lucky enough to get some initial funding through the organisation’s pilot project, but it isn’t enough. I still need around one million CFA francs (just over $2,000) to get inputs and ensure a good yield from my plants,” he says.

His friend Arouna Konaté is in much the same situation. ”In 2003, I stopped growing pineapples because we were getting no assistance and we were heavily in debt. Today, I’m back here hoping things have improved but it seems they haven’t,” he said. ”When the prices of inputs go up 300 percent and the price of a kilogramme of pineapples on the international market goes down, how are we expected to get any kind of return on our investment?” asks Konaté. ”For a long time now the wolf has been at the door.”

Seven years ago, Konaté says, treating a hectare of land with pesticides cost between $225 and $680; today he spends $680 and $1100. To this he must add the cost of buying cardboard boxes for storing the pineapples, transportation costs to the city and finally, employee wages.

OCAB says the Ivorien variety of pineapples fetch between 79 and 86 cents per kilo on the international market. The Bonoua district, the main growing area for pineapples, today has just 1,500 producers, compared to 30,000 in 2000. It produces 80 percent of the pineapple exported from Côte d’Ivoire, according to OCAB.

The country has seen its exports decline steadily due to high production costs and falling prices. According to OCAB, some 214,000 tonnes of pineapples were exported in 1999. Last year this figure was down 70 percent to 60,000 tonnes. One of the reasons for this steep decline in production is the discontinuation of funding from donors, following the 2002 political crisis in this West African country.

Mario Adiko, president of the United Pineapple and Banana Planters of Côte d’Ivoire, says that Ivorien growers lost their place in the international market. ”When we attend meetings, we are told that our production capacity is now meaningless, because 60,000 tonnes for a market demand of around one million tonnes is just insignificant.”

A few months ago, pineapple producers received a delegation from the European Union and the Ivorien Ministry of Agriculture. ”We explained our difficulties to them so that they could help us,” says Anassa Julien, member of a local producers’ cooperative, ”because banks are reluctant to give us credit.”

Eugène Yocoli, a technical manager, says, ”Today, we can say that pineapple farming is still alive thanks to the pineapple pilot project we are currently rolling out in Bonoua and Adiaké.” He says the project has been funded through the balance of funds from the 7th pineapple project of the European Development Fund, totalling $909,000.

”Earlier this year, while waiting for donors, we were hoping to hear that the government had decided to give us a boost – and fortunately this hapepned,” he enthuses. In July, the Ivorien government unveiled a rescue plan to boost production of pineapples. In the next two years, 300 small-scale growers will be set up, on a budget of 20 billion FCFA (approximately $45.4 million).

Konaté says, ”I do not know how many hectares these 300 growers will use, but the number seems small. They represent only a fifth of the total number of producers. Others will have to rely on themselves.” He adds, ”For me, the incoming aid will not totally save the industry. It can only maintain it in its present state for a while. We need a much larger programme.”

For Konaté, the fact that the programme will cover only 300 growers from over 1,000 applicants means it remains unclear whether Côte d’Ivoire will return to its former glory as a pineapple producer.

Martinien Gadou, an economist based in Abidjan, says that farmers will have to make do with the what the government has provided. ”We talk of a rescue plan because there is an emergency. The state has taken account of the industry’s position as regards the international market, and has released the support it has at its disposal. There shouldn’t be any complaints.”


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