A Dip In Global Prices And Demand For Chococlate Create Cocoa Crisis For Ivory Coast's Farmers : The Salt Ivory coast is the world's largest cocoa producer. But a bumper crop combined with a fall in the global demand for chocolate and a dip in cocoa prices are hurting the country's cocoa farmers.
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A Dip In Global Prices Creates Cocoa Crisis For Ivory Coast's Farmers

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A Dip In Global Prices Creates Cocoa Crisis For Ivory Coast's Farmers

A Dip In Global Prices Creates Cocoa Crisis For Ivory Coast's Farmers

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The price of cocoa has collapsed on international markets. That's devastated hundreds of thousands of small farmers in West Africa, which produces most of the world's cocoa. Alex Duval Smith reports from San Pedro in Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa exporter.

ALEX DUVAL SMITH, BYLINE: On her tiny homestead just off the main road, 35-year-old Janine Allini grates a cassava root into a large tub. It's the only thing she's feeding her three kids at the moment. Her husband, George Kouame Koffi, still hasn't been paid for the cocoa he harvested back in October on his 12 acres.

GEORGE KOUAME KOFFI: (Through interpreter) There's no fish. There's nothing, not even chicken. See; we can't even raise chickens. How are we going to eat? It's hard.

SMITH: Cocoa was brought to Ivory Coast by its French colonizers. By now, George tells me it's been the case for several generations, but everyone in these communities relies on the crop.

KOFFI: (Through interpreter) We use the cocoa money for everything - the fields, the family, the children's school fees. Sometimes the teacher sends them home. He says, go; tell your parents to send money. I'm scared. I'm scared for the future of my children.

SMITH: Thanks to good weather, there've been bumper harvests in recent years, but now the world price is at its lowest since 2008. International buyers, mindful of their profits, are backing out of their contracts. George and his family are directly feeling the impact of what's been going on the far-away New York stock exchange.

There's a musty smell of fermenting cocoa running down this row of trucks outside the cargo plants at San Pedro. I've counted about 150 30-ton trucks lined up. It's all about unloading your cocoa as soon as possible before it rots, while it still has a value.

Farmers were promised a high crop price this year - $1.80 per kilo. Now many are forced to sell their cocoa for less to feed their families. Others are holding out for the promised price, risking that their beans will rot. They're building up debt, and so is the nation. Economists Youssouf Carius...

YOUSSOUF CARIUS: This is really, really serious if it remains. Around 30 percent of the debts of the country is in dollars. If the crisis remains like this, it will impact the financial capacity in dollars of Ivory Coast to honor that service of debt. That could be really, really difficult.

SMITH: Back at the farm with George Kouame Koffi. He takes me on a walk to see the cocoa trees. We wade through layers of dry, brown leaves.

First time I'm seeing the inside of a cocoa pod. It's yellow on the outside. It seems to have white flesh. It conceals the cocoa beans.

(Speaking French).

KOFFI: (Speaking French).

SMITH: It's like a sweet fruit. (Speaking French).

KOFFI: (Speaking French).

SMITH: Chocolate can be bought in the supermarket in the nearest town, but actually, it's too expensive.

KOFFI: (Speaking French).

SMITH: George says the plantation is in bad shape. He urgently needs some cash to spray chemicals against insects and mold to save his trees for next season. Farmers like him are desperate. They simply don't know what's coming next. For NPR News, I'm Alex Duval Smith in San Pedro, Ivory Coast.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAR'S DEN SONG, "AULD WIVES")

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