Cocoa produced in Liberia illegally supplies Ivorian production

Cocoa made in Ivory Coast is grown in Liberia

Cocoa produced in Liberia illegally supplies Ivorian production

Cocoa made in Ivory Coast is grown in Liberia. This is the conclusion of the report by the Ivorian NGO Initiatives for Community Development and Forest Conservation (IDEF), published Monday April 22. Based on surveys carried out between October 2023 and March 2024 in three Liberian villages, the study documents the existence of trafficking organized in particular by Ivorian and Burkinabé planters, without however commenting on the extent of the phenomenon.

Installed in towns along the Cavally River, the natural border between Ivory Coast and Liberia, smugglers illegally transport their cocoa to sell it on the Ivorian side, particularly in the area around Grabo, in the southwest of the country.

Investigators say they found that Liberian beans were included in local production intended for national sale. The same goes for production reserved for export: interviewed, the delegate of a cooperative which supplies cocoa to the American multinational Cargill admitted to sourcing Liberian beans. The agri-food giant is nevertheless a beneficiary of the Rainforest Alliance label, a certification for sustainable agriculture which commits companies to controlling the origin of their products and ensuring that they do not come, among other things, from deforestation. .

Exodus of producers

Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, has lost around 80% of its forest cover due to intensive cocoa cultivation. From 16 million hectares at the beginning of the 20th century, the forest now extends over only 2.9 million hectares, according to the UN program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation (REDD).

A situation which would be at the origin of the migration of Ivorian cocoa farmers towards neighboring Liberia which is now home to more than half of West Africa's tropical forests. “There is a phenomenon of exodus of Ivorian producers towards Liberia. And given that there is very little road infrastructure in this country, those who produce cocoa in this area sell it in Ivory Coast,” specifies Bakary Traoré, director of the NGO and author of the report.

In an article devoted to the movement of the cocoa loop from Ivory Coast to Liberia, economist François Ruf also speaks of a cocoa "runoff" due to the decline in yield of aging Ivorian cocoa trees. Planters, still owners of their plots, would in fact cross the border to establish new plantations.

In the three Liberian villages mentioned in the report, residents say that “183 producers have been welcomed in recent years, including 60 for the period from December 2023 to January 2024 alone.” These arrivals would have accelerated the clearing of the local primary forest with thirteen new plantations in 2018, eighteen in 2021 and five currently being created.

Map the plots

While cocoa prices are reaching historic highs – exceeding $10,000 per tonne at the end of March on the benchmark New York market – Europe adopted in June 2023 a regulation relating to products linked to deforestation and forest degradation (RDUE).

From January 1, 2025, the importation and marketing of cocoa beans resulting from deforestation carried out after 2020 will in theory be prohibited within the European Union (EU). “A unique chance to resolve the historic problems of deforestation in the cocoa sector, which the industry and certification systems have never managed to resolve voluntarily,” believes Bakary Traoré.

Cocoa producing countries still need to accept the establishment of effective traceability systems. IDEF is therefore calling for a map of all production plots in Côte d'Ivoire with an estimate of the theoretical volume that each of them can produce. “Currently, and due to the multiplicity of existing systems, the same plot can be presented several times as a source of production in order to “launder” cocoa from deforestation in Liberia,” maintains the NGO.

This recommends EU participation in financing the traceability system and that the Ivorian Ministry of Agriculture support producers in the renewal of their plantations. “The Liberian authorities must work with the Ivorian authorities to combat cocoa smuggling on both sides of the border and also benefit from the experience of Côte d'Ivoire in organizing the marketing system,” concludes the report.

Strengthen traceability

For its part, the Coffee-Cocoa Council (CCC) in Côte d'Ivoire, to which IDEF provided the report ahead of its publication, regrets the absence of figures making it possible to quantify the extent of the phenomenon described, the report does not not specifying the percentage of Liberian cocoa that would be present in the Ivorian sector.

The regulatory body communicates on more than a million growers identified in its database and claims to have already distributed 730,000 electronic producer identification cards which make it possible to trace product purchases and their origins. And to add that its traceability system will be operational throughout the territory from October 1, 2024.

If cocoa enters Ivory Coast illegally, the country is also faced with an escape of its beans to Liberia, Guinea and Togo. Since the launch of the 2023-2024 harvest, the Ivorian government estimates that 100,000 tonnes of cocoa have fraudulently left its territory.

This traffic, fueled by price differences and differences in sales systems between countries, is not new. With the recent 50% increase in the selling price of a kilo of beans in Ivory Coast, from 1,000 to 1,500 CFA francs, Ghanaian farmers could be tempted to sell their stock to their neighbors. Ghana, the world's second largest cocoa producer, is considering aligning its minimum selling price (currently 21 cedis, or 961 CFA francs) with that of Côte d'Ivoire in order to stem the smuggling of beans.