GAGNOA, Ivory Coast – Authorities in top cocoa grower Ivory Coast arrested three middle men for purchasing beans below a state guaranteed farmgate price, the country’s marketing body said on Wednesday.
Report by Reuters
The arrests are the first evidence the government plans to enforce the fixed farmgate prices, introduced for the 2012/13 season as part of new reform measures aimed at revitalising the long-neglected sector.
“We want to send a strong signal to all sector operators telling them that we are not going to play around with the application of this reform,” Mariam Coulibaly-Dagnogo, the CCC’s head of communications, told Reuters.
Quality and price enforcement agents working for the Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC) arrested the three buyers in the towns of Guiberoua, near Gagnoa, and Biankouma, north of Man, she said, adding they remain in custody.
They are accused of buying a total of 88 tonnes of beans at prices ranging from 400 to 650 CFA francs per kilogramme – far below the 725 CFA francs per kg set by the government under its new reform.
“The price was set and must be respected…Sanctions will be applied ranging from the withdrawal of buyer permits and exporter licenses to prosecution and prison…We won’t have mercy, even over a single kilogramme,” Coulibaly-Dagnogo said.
The reform, which aims to increase incomes for farmers and encourage reinvestment in ageing plantations, ends more than a decade of sector liberalisation.
It struggled from the onset, however, as exporters boycotted early auctions to forward sell the bulk of the 2012/13 harvest to support the guaranteed farmgate price.
More recently, the middle men responsible for collecting from plantations and delivering to the ports the bulk of Ivory Coast’s cocoa output threatened to block the start of the season over reimbursable transport costs proposed by the CCC.
The CCC increased its transport estimates and the merchants backed away from their strike threat, however many now say poor road conditions and bribes demanded by soldiers and government agents risk saddling them with losses.
“We agree to respect the price, but the roads need to be repaired and there are still those who take our money along the way. If these conditions aren’t met, how do you expect us to work?” Gagnoa-based middle man Tiemoko Kone told Reuters.
News of the arrests has spread among buyers in the bush, provoking anger among many who accuse the government of using them as scapegoats after failing to follow through on promises to improve their working environment.
“We’ll work a bit longer to see how it goes, but if the government arrests us instead of changing the situation, we’ll all stop working and they can go buy cocoa and bring it to Abidjan themselves,” said middle man Adama Coulibaly.