Ivory Coast reigns as the world’s top cocoa producer but it wants to sell more than the beans, turning them into the even more lucrative chocolate, from breakfast spread to candy bars.
Home to more than 35 percent of the world’s cocoa crop — with a record production of 1.7 million tonnes in 2014 — this west African country whose equatorial countryside is dotted with plantations, made cocoa its economic engine since independence from France in 1960. The “brown gold” accounts for 22 percent of Ivory Coast’s gross domestic product (GDP), half of its exports, and around two-thirds of people’s jobs and income, according to the World Bank. During the 2013-14 season, Ivorian cocoa producers saw profits of 2.13 billion euros ($2.3 billion), according to Ivory Coast’s coffee-cocoa council. Worldwide cocoa reaped some $13 billion (9.0 billion euros) in profits. But those figures were dwarfed by the world’s chocolate earnings, which were nearly 10 times greater that season, according to the International Organisation for Coffee and Cocoa (ICCO).
As one local analyst in the sector put it: “It’s not normal that cocoa should leave Ivory Coast and then come back, it’s an aberration“. And Ivory Coast wants to take a bite out of the rich chocolate market. In neighbourhoods of the economic capital Abidjan, cocoa beans are being converted into a paste that can be used to make chocolate bars. “We are interested in exporting finished and semi-finished products,” said Ivorian Trade Minister Jean-Louis Billon. After a decade of political and military crises, and bloody post-election violence in 2011, Ivory Coast has become more stable with an economic growth rate of nine percent between 2012 and 2014. According to the ICCO, it is set to become the number one processor of cocoa beans. Ivorian authorities say their goal is to process half their cocoa bean crop inside the country by 2020. “We believe it is necessary to allow the country’s (cocoa) producers to gain some added value. We are encouraging them to grind their own product,” said Jean-Marc Anga, ICCO executive director.