Cocoa exporters in Côte d’Ivoire face default as bean supply runs short

Cocoa exporters in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa, are at risk of defaulting on their contracts due to a shortage of beans. According to seven sources who attended a crisis meeting with the regulator, the exporters urgently require up to 150,000 tonnes to fulfil their commitments.

The country’s main harvest season runs from October to March and, as it nears its end, the supply of beans is tightening. Exporters estimate that arrivals at the country’s main ports stood at 34,000 tonnes for the week to 12 February, versus 66,000 tonnes during the same period last season.

Cocoa regulator, the Cocoa and Coffee Council (CCC), met with representatives of GEPEX, which represents multinational exporters, domestic traders’ lobby GNI, and UCOOPEXCI, which represents exporting cooperatives, last week to discuss the shortfall.

Sources who attended the meeting said that exporters were heading towards a certain default because they have not been able to buy beans since January. Members of the domestic cocoa traders association GNI also said that they were facing difficulties buying beans to honour export contracts.

The situation has been further complicated by the volume of cocoa being sold exclusively within the Fair-trade market, which commands a higher price that is passed on to farmers. This has cut the volumes available to domestic exporters, according to some sources.

“Certified cocoa costs between 950 CFA (US$1.54) and 975 CFA francs per kilo, while the farm-gate price is 900 CFA francs. It is impossible for us to compete because multinationals have a monopoly on all certified cocoa,” one trader said.

In light of the crisis, the sources who attended the CCC meeting said that they had asked the regulator to react quickly so domestic exporters could avoid looming defaults.

A spokesperson for the regulator confirmed that a meeting was held on Friday to discuss the issue but gave no further details.

At the meeting, the CCC proposed pushing back the loading period for the contracts of struggling exporters to June so that they can buy beans between April and June during the mid-crop harvest. However, some domestic traders dismissed the proposal, claiming that customers expect cocoa from the main crop, which is of higher quality.

Another solution proposed by the CCC included authorizing local cocoa grinders to hold only 15 days’ worth of bean grinding capacity instead of 45 days.

However, cocoa grinding companies said the solution was impractical because stocks are already scheduled to be processed within a few months in response to strong market demand for semi-finished cocoa products.

“We are currently grinding at almost 95% of capacity due to strong international demand, and this stock will quickly be exhausted in a few weeks,” said the manager of an Abidjan-based company.

The shortage of beans in Côte d’Ivoire is likely to have an impact on the global cocoa market. With the country accounting for around 40% of the world’s cocoa production, any disruption to its supply chain is likely to have knock-on effects in other parts of the world.

Cocoa prices have been rising in recent weeks, as concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, rising freight costs, and political instability in other producing countries have added to supply chain risks.

It remains to be seen how the situation in Côte d’Ivoire will develop and whether the CCC’s proposed solutions will be enough to avert a crisis.