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August 09, 2010

Ivory Coast to focus on cocoa quality

by Loucoumane Coulibaly

Ivory Coast will focus on boosting the quality of its cocoa exports in the coming years instead of seeking to reverse recent declines in output, the top grower nation's agriculture minister said.

Cocoa production from the West African state, which accounts for a third of world supply of the main ingredient in chocolate, is on track to fall to its lowest in at least five years due to the effects of disease and underinvestment since a 2002-03 civil war split the country.

"We do not foresee an increase in production, but instead the emphasis will be placed on quality and the reduction of poverty in the countryside," Agriculture Minister Sangafowa Coulibaly told a press conference.

"We are no longer going to produce for the sake of producing as we've done in the past, which has the effect of pulling down prices," he told reporters.

World cocoa prices shot to a 30-year high at the end of 2009 after Ivory Coast closed the book on its worst season since 2004-05, and the industry expects production this year to be even worse due to the spread of swollen shoot disease.

Some 1,076,202 tonnes of cocoa reached Ivorian export docks by July 18 since the start of the season in October, down nearly 2 percent from the 1,091,573 tonnes that arrived during the same period the year before, according to data from the official marketing body BCC.

Ivory Coast's representative to the World Cocoa Organisation said this year he expected this season to yield a total of 1.2 million tonnes, down from 1.22 million during the 2008-09 season, and added output could drop further to 1 million tonnes in the coming years.

Farmers and exporters have said arrivals this season have been slowed recently in part by poor quality after a stretch of rainy weather made beans difficult to properly dry.

Analysts have said arrivals figures could also overstate the country's production by tens of thousands of tonnes due to an increase in smuggling this year from neighbouring Ghana, where prices are lower.

Coulibaly said Ivory Coast was unlikely to expand the amount of land used for cocoa growing amid an effort to restore rainforest cover damaged by farmers, but said the introduction of modern farming techniques could help to maximize yields on existing plantations.

He said Ivory Coast planned to use about 10 percent of its annual budget on agriculture initiatives to help reduce poverty and cut food imports.


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