The transformation of Ivory Coast's cocoa sector

There is an all too familiar pattern of African countries exporting raw materials and importing manufactured goods. Though this trend still dominates much of Africa’s trading relations, there is beginning to be a slow but steady shift towards the manufacturing of finished products. The manufacturing of chocolate in Ivory Coast serves as a shining example of this change, and many budding Ivorian chocolate entrepreneurs are meeting the demands of the growing market for chocolate in their country.

Cocoa makes up around 15% of Ivory Coast’s GDP, and is mainly exported as a raw product that is then processed in countries like Germany. According to the World Bank, cocoa accounts for two-thirds of Ivorian’s jobs and incomes. While the West African nation is the world’s leading cocoa exporter, it is difficult to find chocolate made in Ivory Coast from Ivorian cocoa. The bulk of the added value that could be taken from transforming bean to bar within the country itself is instead sitting in foreign hands. This is beginning to change, with the country’s first cocoa factory opening in May of last year. The factory is run by the French chocolate manufacturer Cemoi and its activity is set to overtake the Netherlands as the leading bean grinding hub. Patrick Poirrier, Cemoi’s chief executive, has said: “The arrival of a new chocolate factory in the world’s largest cocoa producer…will also allow Ivorian planters to finally access the pleasure of chocolate.” As Poirrier alludes, many Ivorian cocoa planters and farmers have not actually tasted the finished product of the cocoa beans they harvest. A video that went viral on YouTube in 2015 shows Ivorian farmers tasting chocolate for the first time. For the farmers in the video, the price of a chocolate bar is a luxury costing over a third of their daily wage.

The efforts to increase the manufacturing of chocolate in Ivory Coast are largely state-led, with President Ouattara aspiring to have 50% of Ivory Coast’s yearly crop of cocoa processed in the country by 2020, up from 30% now. While touring the new chocolate facility in the commercial capital of Abidijan, Preisdent Ouattara was quoted as saying, “We wanted to be able to…make chocolate for Ivorians, for Africans, and especially West Africans.”

This transformation of Ivory Coast’s cocoa sector is also being carried out by several budding chocolatiers who see much profit arise from the transformation of bean to bar. Axel Emmanuel, who has been named Chocolatier of Ivory Coast and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015, markets his chocolate mainly to the middle class. The recent Festiglaces festival in Ivory Coast was keen on promoting the “Made in Ivory Coast” theme, and many children attended chocolate making workshops.

The ultimate goal is to not only make chocolate in Ivory Coast, but also produce a chocolate bar that is affordable for most of the population. In its current stage, chocolate consumption in Ivory Coast trails far behind that of countries like Germany and Switzerland. Dana Mroueh, a chocolatier, is currently designing a chocolate bar with cheaper packaging to bring the cost down, for she says everyone “has the right to taste chocolate and appreciate this brilliant product.” Beyond chocolate, Africans have the right to profit from transforming raw materials of all kinds into finished products on their own soil. It is high time that this structural disarticulation between production and consumption is replaced by a system in which the bulk of added revenue from finished products benefits Africans themselves.