Ivory Coast: "The crisis in Ukraine has given us ideas"

With the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine, food sovereignty for African countries has become a priority

Ivory Coast: "The crisis in Ukraine has given us ideas"

With the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine, food sovereignty for African countries has become a priority. In Côte d'Ivoire, the government is stepping up initiatives to not only find ways to feed people through new, more suitable agricultural models, but also to offer better incomes to farmers. At the heart of these issues is the future of Ivorian agriculture, a key sector that accounts for up to 22% of GDP. Until now recognized for producing coffee, cocoa, rubber, or so-called cash crops, now Côte d'Ivoire wants to accelerate its agricultural diversification and move towards local production. A paradigm shift that comes at a time when the country must also respond to the new challenges posed by the European embargo on the products of deforestation, including cocoa. Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani, Minister of Agriculture, was in Paris for the Agricultural Show. For Le Point Afrique, he discusses current issues around food sovereignty, the impact of the war in Ukraine, new European directives and the future of cocoa, of which his country is the world's largest producer.

Le Point Afrique: The African continent continues to suffer persistent difficulties, particularly food, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. Where is Ivory Coast?

Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani: The whole world remains impacted by the consequences of the war in Ukraine, Africa is not left out. Côte d'Ivoire, which depends on Ukraine and Russia for most of its wheat and inputs, has not been spared. At one point, we were unable to access all the products, due to the crisis and soaring prices. The State was reactive and took strong measures, in particular to subsidize wheat, the price of which rose steeply.

But the crisis in Ukraine has not only done damage, it has also given us ideas, and prompted us to think about new approaches in relation to our agricultural model. More than a year after its outbreak, while the war persists, we have decided to no longer depend on the outside, whether for wheat or for other products.

How can these reflections lead to a strategic objective for the Ivorian economy?

Today, we are seeing interesting experiments, with the incorporation of cassava, yam, corn, and even soya flour in the manufacture of bread, these experiments make it possible to reduce the use of wheat. For now, these are the avenues we are exploring. Ultimately, we believe that this adaptive agriculture can enable us to achieve our goal of food sovereignty. These previously underestimated local products take on vital importance in the new vision we have of agriculture. Our wish is to produce enough locally what we are used to consuming, this means changing our eating habits somewhat.

The challenge is to go from a niche market to full-scale production… How do you plan to do this?

In addition to foodstuffs, it is also a question of producing our own inputs such as fertilizers, ureas, NPKs. The crisis in Ukraine challenges us and pushes us to be proactive in all areas. Local fertilizers can be made from compost of tree detritus, leaves, also with the detritus of cocoa pods. We can also produce organic fertilizer. You know that with cassava starch, you can make organic pesticides, and even with the branches or leaves of rubber trees! The potentials are immense... The Ivorian State supports producers who need inputs, but it should be emphasized that the latter do not sit idly by, they adapt to their level, by producing their own fertilizer and by turning to other types of production. Agricultural diversification is a priority for us. Agriculture accounts for 22% of our GDP. We produce cocoa, coffee, rubber, cashew nuts… But alongside these cash crops, we must be able to develop food and market gardening production.

Have you launched public policies in this direction?

Côte d'Ivoire has implemented an agricultural reform policy with integrated agropoles in the different regions, two have already been launched, the third will be inaugurated this year. In these agropoles, our ambition is to put our second-generation agricultural investment program into practice, that is to say that we want to carry out production there, offer storage and processing. Marketing is the fourth link, which will complete the chain. The idea is to ensure that the whole process is integrated around value chains, and that we no longer have to lose part of our crops. Because when you don't have the possibility of keeping the product, and you don't have any processing policy in place, it not only negatively impacts production, but ultimately it has consequences for the daily life of the consumer.

Concretely, you need factories…

We need factories, even small local processing units, which do not need a lot of funding. I often cite the example of attiéké, from which we can derive other by-products such as alcohol, which we can export. These processing units must be close to our populations, in rural areas.

Exactly, Côte d'Ivoire is betting on local cocoa processing, where are you?

Today, we estimate 800,000 tonnes of ground cocoa, to produce cocoa powder or cocoa butter, knowing that the factories that are established have a capacity of around one million tonnes. Our goal is that in 2030 we will be able to process all of our products, in particular cocoa, for which we are considering the possibilities of manufacturing chocolate from Côte d'Ivoire. There are artisan chocolatiers in Côte d'Ivoire, who with small technical means are trying to do transformation, but we don't just want to cower on a transformation that only takes into account powder and butter. It is necessary that, after having crushed the cocoa, we are able to set up factories to manufacture chocolate bars intended for Europe or other continents. People will always consume chocolate, we are not afraid because our target market is not only limited to Europe. We are targeting Asia, the United States or even the United Arab Emirates.

To fight against the disappearance of tropical forests, one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union has set new standards for the export of many products including cocoa, how the Côte d' Does Ivory understand these rules?

Concretely, we are working together with Europe, so that the measures taken in Brussels can, to a degree, correspond to the realities of Côte d'Ivoire. However, Côte d'Ivoire is not so affected by these measures. Since 2018, no more cocoa trees have been planted, but European law has applied to deforested areas since 2020. To tell you the truth, we did not wait for EU directives to act. We conducted a census of our producers, and geolocated the plantations to determine whether or not they are in a classified forest. The result is clear: more than 85% of cocoa production comes from rural areas, only 10 to 15% from classified forests. This systematic tracing of Ivorian cocoa facilitates the identification of growers at the time of marketing, since they must have a card to carry out banking transactions. Those who are not identified will therefore not be able to market their products.

Côte d'Ivoire goes further, since with the new agroforestry policy, we are in the process of ensuring that cocoa from classified areas can be recognized. There is also a question of planting trees in the plantations to have a fairly substantial forest cover, which should definitely respond to the problems of the EU, which is within its rights when it considers that its consumers are careful about the products that they buy.

On our side, we have to prove to the EU that our cocoa does not come from deforestation and, moreover, we invite them to Côte d'Ivoire to realize the reality. Because cocoa cultivation can only succeed in the forest. According to my research, cocoa is a forest tree native to Brazil, specifically the Amazon, where there are four species of cocoa trees. It is these cocoa trees that were introduced in Africa to make cocoa that is exploited economically. Cocoa can therefore be part of the policy of reforestation of our forests, combined with other plants to give them a canopy look.

Since 2018, Abidjan and Accra have engaged in a standoff with multinationals to defend a fair price of cocoa for farmers, have you obtained satisfactory results?

We set up a steering committee within the framework of the Côte d'Ivoire-Ghana cocoa initiative and it was our two heads of state, President Alassane Ouattara and the Ghanaian Nana Akufo-Addo, who wanted us to we put together to be stronger against the multinationals. We started with our two countries, which account for 60% of the world's cocoa production; today, three other countries are interested. These are Cameroon, Togo and Nigeria. Together, we could represent up to 75% of global production. This would allow us to arrive stronger at the time of the pricing process. Most of our production benefits multinationals to the detriment of producers, so the policy put in place today has allowed us to have a "decent income differential", even if some multinationals are still reluctant to others have accepted the principle and are playing fair, those who do not play the game will be subject to sanctions.