Solidaridad cocoa programme in West Africa unites Ivorian farmers

The cocoa sector in West Africa which collectively supplies more than 60 percent of the world’s cocoa, has been a subject of many studies and reports. These range from challenging social conditions for farmers to poor productivity. Notwithstanding these challenges the Cocoa Improvement Programme of Solidaridad in Duekoue, in the Ivory Coast is contributing something different to the lives of farmers in the sector – peace and social harmony.

Duekoue is an important cocoa producing region in the western district of Ivory Coast, which is the world’s leading cocoa bean producer. Between 2011 and 2012 the country produced 1 400 metric tonnes. The Solidaridad cocoa programme peace facilitation between the farmers came in the wake of the violent conflict the country experienced about three years ago.

Over the years the Duekoue district which is home to a cosmopolitan population divided along ethnic lines; attracted farmers and communities from neighbouring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso to the cocoa sector. During the conflict the different ethnic groups in the country lived in fear of constant attack. The Duekoue district experienced the worst atrocities during the conflict.

The improvement programme, in Duekoue has become a vehicle for social cohesion, peace and sustainable development. “At the height of the political crisis the Guers indigenous (Ivorians) were fighting the Mossi’s (Burkinabes) and other foreign nationals in this cocoa region. We hardly worked together,” says farmer Soré Kadré.

Development of cocoa sector overrides differences

According to the International Committee for the Red Cross more than 800 people were killed during the violence.The crisis escalated after Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of the Ivory Coast, was proclaimed the winner of the Ivorian elections in 2010.

After months of negotiations to end the crisis, peace was restored in the country. According to the Kahen village Chief, Gbea Koui Ernest, the programme has by default brought farmers from different ethnic groups together.

According to Kodjia Felix, Solidaridad field agronomist in Ivory Coast, the programme definitely contributed to the peace among the farmers. “At the beginning of the project the farmers would not talk to each other. But constant interaction during training sessions ensured that the farmers start to dialogue and work together to improve cocoa farming and reach global standards.”

Solidaridard Ivory Coast Country Manager, Kadi Sylla explains, that the project targets individual farmers who are not in cooperatives but who produce 80% of the cocoa the country exports. The project also mobilises individual farmers into groups and helps them to work on achieving UTZ certification standards for sustainable farming practices.