Davos 2022: cocoa exporter Ivory Coast plans to become global chocolate supplier, says PM

Exclusive: Patrick Achi says to meet economic and development goals, the country must move into added value products like chocolate

Ivory Coast Prime Minister Patrick Achi. The country is looking for investors to support its plans to become a chocolate producer. Reuters
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The Ivory Coast has ambitions to sell chocolate made in the West African country around the world as the major cocoa exporter aims to increase revenue from its main commodity.

Speaking to The National in Davos on Monday, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting, Prime Minister Patrick Achi said relatively high prices for cocoa on international exchanges would not, on their own, support the development of Ivory Coast’s economy, including creating millions of jobs needed to meet the needs of a young population.

“For the past 30 years, we've been the [world’s] first producer of cocoa; actually, we are producing more than 2 million tonnes [a year],” he said.

“But at the end of the day, we also realise that whatever price you will be given, it will never be enough — not only for the country, but also for the hard labour of the people … because you are selling raw material.

“So, at the end of the day, transforming this raw material is the real challenge, you know, because you need added value, because you need to create jobs, to generate more revenue.”

“As far as cocoa is concerned, the whole value chain, going … from the farmer all the way to consumer is $105 billion. Now, the producer just gains $5bn of this. So, as long as you will be selling [only the] raw material, you never get there.”

The global chocolate market is forecast to grow to $200.4bn by 2028, from $138.5bn in 2020, according to research by Fior Markets.

“The main issue is, in any field or any sector in which you are, if you are not integrated into the world value chain, then you are losing,” said Mr Achi.

“Whatever quantity you are doing … that will not help you develop, nor having your people get a fair share of the revenue they deserve.”

The Ivory Coast is currently looking for investors to support its plans to become a chocolate producer.

“That is why our relationship with the Emirates is very important … we [will] be talking with our friend [Sheikh] Shakhbout [bin Nahyan, Minister of State] and officials in the emirates, not only to see investments from the country come to Ivory Coast to invest in the transformation and produce chocolate, but also to be able to have Dubai as a key strategic logistics export hub toward the Middle East and Asia,” Mr Achi said.

At the end of the day, transforming this raw material is the real challenge, you know, because you need added value, because you need to create jobs, to generate more revenue
Patrick Achi, Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast

Issues related to the cocoa industry’s levels of sustainability in the country, including deforestation, are being addressed, he stressed.

“We have to be able to sustain our own agriculture, but also demand that you have out there in the world, shows a very important awareness of consumer, that will want to consume green foods, foods that are really free of deforestation, free of the worst form of child labour and sold at a price that is fair for the producer — all these key issues have to be taken into account.”

Mr Achi said the country is also looking to other commodities for future economic growth. The Ivory Coast recently announced the discovery of major oil and gas finds.

The successful exploration for and production of about 1.5 billion to 2 billion barrels of oil and about 1.8 trillion to 2.4 trillion cubic feet of gas would depend on a number of factors.

However, access to more hydrocarbons would be very important for both domestic consumption and international exports.

“Gas is very useful for electricity production, even though we are moving more and more to solar or to biomass, to have a better mix,” he said.

“Oil, yes, because that generates revenue that we need to invest, not only in basic infrastructure, but also in other social needs for our people.”

Investments are critical for the population of about 26 million, particularly in the north of the country, where there has been concern that conflict with militants in the Sahel could spill over this year and could increase.

“The best defence is through the population and your own people who don't want to see that happen and [conflict] spread out. And that comes from good training, access to basic needs — food, security, health, education. And, as I say, access to jobs,” he said.

“Jobs [are] the major challenge that we have. When you have a country where 77 per cent of the population is aged under 35, then you realise that if you are not able to find a job for these people, then you are creating big issues. By 2030 … I’ll have eight million kids on my hands. If I am not able to insert them in the economy, [and] work life, then I am into jeopardy.”

There has been an increase in incidents since 2020 related to the Sahel fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda. France has been training the Ivory Coast’s security forces and the US has also been working with the country.

Mr Achi expects this co-operation to continue.

“We see increasing co-operation, with all our friends and allies that are fighting against terrorists over the world, because, you know, you cannot let this spread out,” he said.

“And it is a threat, not only for the [African] continent, [it] is a threat for the world, wherever it happens … So, whoever can help to stop that, is welcome. So, we welcome all friends who want to help.”

Updated: May 23, 2022, 9:48 AM