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A broken system

6 mars 2024

Written by: Ousmane Traoré

A broken system

Cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire are being crushed by the same pressures as farmers protesting in Europe.

The farmers blocking roads and bringing traffic to a halt across Europe are part of a global trend. Since January 2023, farmers’ protests have erupted in at least 65 countries around the world.

From Mexican farmers demonstrating for better corn prices, to Indian farmers demanding guaranteed prices for their crops, and Nigerian women farmers calling for their marginalisation to end, the situations in each country vary.

One theme, however, remains consistent: a feeling of powerlessness in the face of global economic forces that are pushing many farmers to the financial brink.

It’s a feeling which I, and many farmers producing cocoa for the EU market, know all too well.

Three-pronged assault

As a coffee and cocoa farmer in Côte d'Ivoire, and head of an agricultural cooperative with 8,233 members, every day I see the economic pressures pushing Ivorian farmers deeper into desperation and poverty.

The farmers in our cooperative produce around 15,000 tonnes of cocoa per year. This is a huge amount. Nevertheless, it’s just 1% of what Côte d’Ivoire, the biggest cocoa bean producer in the world, produces every year.

Nearly six million Ivorians rely on the cocoa industry for their survival and most of our cocoa beans are destined for the EU: the world’s largest importer, processer and consumer of cocoa.

I’ve been working in the cocoa culture sector for 30 years. From the age of 15, I was going with my parents to the cocoa field. Since that time, cocoa prices have constantly fluctuated. But in the last seven years, the price farmers receive has remained stubbornly low. This is one reason why the global cocoa supply has plummeted: farmers are leaving the sector. This is leading to unprecedented market volatility, which will soon be felt in European consumers’ pockets.

The problem for us is that the European supermarkets and major food manufacturers are so big and have so much market power, that they are able to push down commodity prices far below even what it costs farmers to produce. European farmers are facing the same problem.

Meanwhile, chocolate companies have used the excuse of the COVID pandemic to raise the price of chocolate for consumers – while not actually passing on this price increase to the farmers they are buying from. By doing this, chocolate companies have made record profits in recent years.

As a result, out of the final sale price of a chocolate bar, chocolate manufacturers and supermarkets are making around 80-90 times more of profit than cocoa farmers. This is why the big companies have always outsourced the farming to small farmers: because they know it doesn’t make any money.

Yet it is us doing the backbreaking labour.

Voracious supermarket chains and global corporations are not the only forces ranged against us. 

While the price we get for our cocoa beans is pitifully low, the cost of fertilisers and other agricultural inputs we rely on, has soared. This has happened, moreover, against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis - in a nation where half the population live on US$1.20 a day, or less. 

This three-pronged assault on our livelihoods – low commodity prices, high input costs, and wider economic woes – is familiar to farmers around the world, including those blockading Brussels, Paris and Prague in their tractor convoys.

A fair price

When a market is broken, regulation must step in.

In Côte d’Ivoire, we are calling for the price of cocoa to be based on the costs of production, rather than on the price determined by the global market, whose outcomes are controlled by large and powerful corporations whose only interest is to push prices as low as possible and maximise their profits.

We have seen European milk farmers calling for an EU legal requirement to pay farmers a price that at least covers their production costs. We strongly support this call and stress that it must be applied not only to goods produced in Europe, but also to commodity imports like cocoa, coffee and bananas.

President Macron’s recent proposal for a ‘floor price’ for certain agricultural products, is a sign that this message is at least starting to resonate in Europe’s corridors of power. 

The farmers protests sweeping the world are a sign of a broken system. If it is not fixed – and famers’ calls for help are not heeded – more political and market turbulence lies ahead.

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Ousmane Traoré is the chairman of ECAKOOG, an organisation of small cocoa producers based in Côte d’Ivoire. 

Catégories: News, Forest Watch, Partner Voices

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