Cocoa prices at the farmgate in Ivory Coast are falling sharply and farmers are fast running out of money, with potentially damaging consequences for the cocoa mid-crop, farmers said on Wednesday.
Farmers said they were stocking their cocoa beans in huge quantities in the hope they can preserve them long enough to sell when the crisis is over, but that there was little enthusiasm for tending to the April-September mid-crop.
A one-month cocoa ban imposed by presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara is meant to starve his rival Laurent Gbagbo of funds, and is backed by Western powers and African leaders who see Ouattara as president-elect, after a November 28 poll Gbagbo refuses to concede. Buying has drastically dropped.
Ouattara has indicated he might extend it next week, but even if he doesn't, European Union sanctions on the pro-Gbagbo ports mean there are few ships to deliver it.
In the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, farmers said they were not able to pay their workers to maintain their farms and the mid-crop would therefore fall.
We are in a crucial phase where we need to care for, clean and treat the cocoa trees. But we don't have any money to pay workers to do this or buy agri-chemicals, said farmer Innocent Zamble who farms in Meagui.
It's going to cut the size of the mid-crop.
The mid-crop makes up around 200,000 tonnes of the total Ivorian 1.2 million tonne crop.
In the western region of Gagnoa, farmers and cooperative managers said few local buyers were collecting beans in the bush at 350 CFA francs per kg, down from 400 CFA francs the previous week, and less than half the 950 CFA francs they were being bought at before the crisis.
The situation is becoming more and more difficult. There's a lot of fear amongst the buyers, whose buying prices are way down, said cooperative manager Francois Badiel.
Since most farmers have not been able to sell their beans, they are drying and stocking them in the hope that the situation will become normal.
The ban and a cash liquidity shortage have combined to halt the cocoa sector. Banks are running out of money since Gbagbo and West Africa's central bank severed ties.
In the southern region of Divo, farmers said economic activity was slowing.
Farmers are waiting weeks for their paychecks, said farmer Mathurin Kouame. The restaurants don't have any clients like before, taxis have no passengers and there's not enough food.
In the centre-western region of Daloa, producing the quarter of Ivory Coast's national output, farmer Aka Marcel said if the situation persists many farmers will abandon their plantations before the next mid-crop.