Ivory Coast cocoa farmers go on strike

Cocoa farmers stage a protest in Abidjan
Cocoa farmers staged a protest in Abidjan on Monday to demand higher prices and more financing for cooperatives, disrupting arrivals of beans at ports, buyers said. The sign to the right reads: "Farmers are dying of hunger."Luc Gnago / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Cocoa farmers across Ivory Coast went on strike Monday, holding back their crops to protest low retail prices and high export taxes in a move that could affect the global chocolate industry.

The West African country is the world’s top grower of cocoa beans, producing 40 percent of global output each year, according to government statistics, despite being split following a civil war.

“The strike is on ... we called on the farmers to hoard their beans,” Koffi Kanga, a representative of the country’s cocoa farmers association, said by telephone from San Pedro, Ivory Coast’s second-largest cocoa port after the commercial capital of Abidjan.

Prices slashed
The action comes days after authorities officially opened the harvesting season by announcing a retail price of 80 cents a kilogram, roughly 40 cents a pound. Cocoa association President Henri Amouzou said the farmers are seeking $1.15 a kilogram (57 cents per pound).

Union leaders said they planned to stop trucks carrying cocoa and other farm products such as papayas and bananas to Abidjan until the price is raised. Trucks continued to arrive at the Abidjan port Monday, and it was not immediately clear if any export shipments had been delayed.

Ivory Coast’s 700,000 increasingly impoverished cocoa farmers say they don’t make enough cash from cocoa to send their children to school.

Although the government’s set price often doesn’t match what farmers are actually paid, it sets a benchmark for farmers who plan to sell their beans to local buyers.

Amouzou said farmers also want the government to slash the main cocoa export tax by 45 percent to allow local buyers and exporters to pay farmers a higher price.

Current export taxes are about 40 cents per kilogram (20 cents per pound). Cocoa taxes are the main source of government revenue and have been used to buy arms and military equipment, according to U.N. experts.

Lift on taxes unexpected
Most cocoa farms are in the fertile south of Ivory Coast and were less affected than other areas of the country by civil war that broke out after a failed coup four years ago. The nation has since been split between a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.

Finance Minister Charles Diby Koffi said this month the government would not reduce taxes this season.

“The country is still in crisis,” he said. “A cut can’t be done this season.”