What’s going on down on the farm?

I’ve bemoaned before on this blog the lack of quality (or almost any) coverage of rural issues in the Ivorian national press. With half of the population living in rural areas, agriculture being far-and-away the largest employer (largely informally, but also with the largest private sector employers like Sifca and SCB), and poverty being more pronounced in rural zones, I would think that a good grasp of what’s happening outside the towns and cities is vital to working out whether the country is on the up and the current crop of politicians are worth their salt.

Some recent work by Ecobank Research points to this cocoa year (2013-14) being potentially the country’s largest ever harvest, at around 1.6 million tons of beans. At the same time, world cocoa prices are historically very high, at around $3,000 a ton. On top of this, this is the second year now that farmers benefit from a guaranteed minimum price at the farm gate. It looks like a perfect storm.

So, presumably there’s something to celebrate and farming incomes should be up. But I’m just not in a position to say. Cocoa farmers I’ve spoken with over the years tend to have very limited records of production/price and so it would be something difficult to work out from conversations. The best you usually get is ‘ca va’ or ‘ca va pas’. Perhaps a search for anecdotal information such as school enrollment numbers, numbers of homes with tin roofs, and even reports of farmers taking extra wives could provide some indications. The cocoa sector has an obvious advantage over say oil (e.g. Nigeria), in that this is a sector that employs a large number of people (estimates of 700,000 cocoa farming households) and so presumably has some interesting trickle down effects.

So, one would hope that something positive and interesting is taking place in rural zones. In the north, the news on cotton production is also positive with reports of a resurgence, while local rice production is key priority for the government and production seems to be improving very fast. On the negative side, natural rubber and palm oil are suffering from low world market prices (and new rubber taxes), evidenced by the falling value of Palmci and SAPH shares on the BRVM.

So, at least in cocoa, there seems to be a lot to be getting excited about – a record cocoa year would be the significant economic news of 2014, though you don’t even get a whisper in the press.

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