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February 01, 2011

Fair trade cocoa supply may be affected by Ivory Coast political troubles

by Simon Watkins and Jo Thornhill

Political unrest in the Ivory Coast, where 40 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans are grown, has ‘significantly’ depleted the number of certified fair trade cocoa farmers.

Many have fled the West African country, while fair trade training programmes have also come to a halt.

The situation is already affecting chocolate manufacturers, who are facing the highest cocoa prices for over 30 years. Prices jumped by 10 per cent in January alone. Analysts are predicting they could soon hit $3,720 per metric tonne - a level last seen in January 1979.

It follows a curb on international cocoa exports initiated last this week by the country's new president, Alassane Ouattara.

Angus Kennedy, the editor of Kennedy's Confection and a leading British chocolatier, said chocolate producers are facing 'one of the biggest challenges to hit the industry in recent history. Supplies of sustainable cocoa are set to run out, it's that simple,' he said.

'The Ivory Coast is a complete no-go area for cocoa traders as it's too dangerous, so training new farmers and trying to cut problems in the region is now, mostly impossible. So in effect, its sustainability is not sustainable. Prices can't go up as it's reported because there basically isn't enough certified cocoa left to sell.'

Of the world's 5.5 million cocoa farmers, only 10 per cent have been trained and certified as sustainable fair-trade producers. The certification is granted by specially-trained teachers, and the course runs for up to three years.

But the political turmoil in Ivory Coast means both the farmers and trainers are fleeing the country, leaving a severe shortage of certified cocoa beans.

Even if the political situation improves, it could take three years or more for the number of certified fair-trade farmers to reach its former level.

According to Mr Kennedy, manufacturers are now fighting for the rest of the world's sustainable cocoa bean stock.

'Things could get nasty now as producers start to fight over the last stocks,' he added.


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