Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cocoa is one of the leading export commodities for several African countries. African economies are pushing policies and investments to develop local industry through good processing and support for smallholders.

The production

Cocoa is now widely grown in the tropics, usually at altitudes less than 300 m above sea-level, where it needs a fairly high rainfall and good soil. The cocoa production chain is extremely labour-intensive: the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) estimated that in the 2000s some 3m. smallholders accounted for 90% of output world-wide. Large-scale plantations are found only in Brazil and Indonesia.

Excerpt from World Cocoa Fundation Report

The cocoa-processing industry, meanwhile, is highly concentrated. In the few years up to 2010 the International Cocoa Organization reckoned that just three major companies processed about 40% of global cocoa production:

Most cocoa processing takes place in importing countries, mainly in the USA and the Netherlands. Therefore, West African countries want to further develop processing capacity already established during the 1960s. The cocoa processing includes several steps, among these, we can include shelling, roasting and grinding of beans. The production of chocolate for instance requires 13 specific steps.
The primary product of grinding is chocolate liquor, a part of which is sold directly to chocolate manufacturers; the remainder is then processed further, in order to extract both a fat—cocoa butter—and chocolate powder. Almost half of each bean after shelling consists of cocoa butter. Cocoa powder for use as a beverage is largely fat-free. Cocoa is a mildly stimulating drink, because of its caffeine content, and, unlike coffee and tea, is highly nutritious. 

Cocoa is the most valuable agricultural export commodity in West Africa. Recorded world exports of cocoa beans leapt by 27% in 2004, dipped the following year and then rose to a record 3.03m. tons in 2006, before declining steadily to total 2.73m. metric tons in 2008 (the lowest figure in five years); world exports rose to 3.00m. tons in 2009, dipped to 2.70m. tons in 2010 and then rose to 3.20m. tons in 2011, of which sub-Saharan African countries accounted for a high 73%. The world’s leading exporters of cocoa beans in 2011 were Côte d’Ivoire (1.07m. tons), Ghana (697,236 tons—resurgent by almost 250% on the previous year, some of the cocoa coming from other countries in the region), Nigeria (262,295 tons), Indonesia (210,067 tons—less than half the previous year’s total, when, as usual, the country was the world’s second exporter) and Cameroon (190,214 tons); the next largest African exporter was Togo (25,707 tons—down from almost 120,000 tons two years previously), after Ecuador, Papua New Guinea and the Dominican Republic. In 2008 the number of cocoa farms in West Africa was estimated at 1.2m.–1.5m., with an average size of 3–5 ha, employing 10.5m. workers in total. Côte d’Ivoire has been the leading producer in both regional and world terms since it overtook Ghana in 1977. According to FAO, in 2011 Côte d’Ivoire accounted for about 34% of both global output of cocoa and international cocoa exports.

Cote d'Ivoire
Since 2002 fluctuations in international cocoa bean prices have to a large extent been determined by developments in the civil conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. According to the ICCO, Côte d’Ivoire is the leading grinding country among cocoa-producing countries, and in 2011/12 it was the third most important grinding country in the world, after the Netherlands and Germany—though it still accounted for some 11% annually of global grinding of cocoa beans.

The Ivorian cocoa industry suffered disruptions to the processing and export supply chain in the first half of 2011, owing to political instability, but increased investment in grindings capacity by the leading multinationals helped to resume the impetus towards Côte d’Ivoire’s soon becoming the world’s leading grinding country. Côte d’Ivoire’s first cocoa transformation plant, SUCSO, opened in the port of San Pedro in late 2007, and was expected to produce 15,000 tons of chocolate bars per year. Cocoa superseded coffee as Côte d’Ivoire main cash crop at the beginning of the 1980s. 
In 2011 an estimated 34% of the country’s export revenue was derived from cocoa and cocoa preparations. Government measures implemented in August 1999 to liberalize the country’s cocoa sector included the abolition of the state cocoa board, with the consequent removal of guaranteed prices. In November, however, the impact on Ivorian cocoa growers of sharply lower world cocoa prices (see below) prompted the Government to reintroduce a minimum price mechanism and buffer stock arrangements.

Recently Ivory Coast governments adopted measures to boost domestic processing of cocoa and cashew nuts to half of the harvest from 35 percent and 5 percent respectively.  

Cocoa is traditionally Ghana’s most important cash crop, occupying more than one-half of all the country’s cultivated land. In the mid-1960s Ghana was the world’s leading producer, accounting for more than one-third of world production. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, however, Ghana’s cocoa production underwent a sharp decline. This contraction of the country’s cocoa industry has been attributed to growing competition from Côte d’Ivoire and mismanagement. The decline was exacerbated by the smuggling of cocoa to neighbouring countries, where higher prices were obtainable. The spread of plant diseases, particularly black pod and swollen shoot, have also inhibited recovery. Ghana endeavoured to revive cocoa production through programmes of replanting and the introduction of disease-resistant varieties, together with pest control, and improved facilities for transport and storage. Between 2004/05 and 2010/11 Ghanaian grindings of cocoa beans almost tripled, from 80,000 tons to a forecast 230,000 tons; grindings were forecast at 220,000 tons in 2012/13, a 5.5% share of world grindings (compared with 2.4% eight years previously).

 Among the smaller African producers, cocoa exports are a significant component of the economies of Cameroon (where they contributed about 31% of total export revenue in 2009, but only 16% in 2010 owing to the beginning of petroleum production) and São Tomé and Príncipe (where they contributed 68% of total export revenue in 2009); cocoa exports remain important to but by no means dominate in Togo. Although cocoa is still the main export crop in Nigeria (which itself is Africa’s third largest producer), its significance to the economy has been eclipsed by petroleum, and the same applies to Equatorial Guinea.

World prices for cocoa are highly sensitive to changes in supply and demand, making its market position volatile. Negotiations to secure international agreement on stabilizing the cocoa industry began in 1956. Full-scale cocoa conferences, under UN auspices, were held in 1963, 1966 and 1967, but all proved abortive. A major difficulty was the failure to agree on a fixed minimum price.

Cocoa trade is currently regulated by the ICCO International Cocoa Agreement currently at its seventh edition.
This last agreement was adopted in occasion of the Cocoa Conference held in Geneva from 21st to 25th June 2010.

The new document built on the strengths of the 2001 Agreement, improving product quality and co-operation between exporters and importers, emphasizing improved incomes for farmers and other producer benefits, and aiming for sustainability in the cocoa economies. The 2010 Agreement, unlike the previous five-year accords, was to be in effect for 10 years, provisionally from 1 October 2012, with the possibility of two four-year extensions, recognizing the perceived success of the current regime. International prices for cocoa were generally very low until the early 2000s. The Cocoa Producers’ Alliance (COPAL), with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria, had 10 members in 2013, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Togo.

COPAL was formed in 1962 with the aim of preventing excessive price fluctuations by regulating the supply of cocoa. Members of COPAL currently account for about three-quarters of world cocoa production, with its seven African members providing some 69%. COPAL has acted in concert with successive ICCAs.

Despite some improvements, the absence of USA and Russia among the signatories of the Agreements affects the overall strength of this international instrument. In July 2011 Costa Rica became the third signatory to the document, after Switzerland and the EU.

 The principal centres for cocoa-trading in the industrialized countries are the London Cocoa Terminal Market, in the United Kingdom, and the New York Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange, in the USA. Citation: Cocoa, in Europa World online. London,

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

History of unprecedent Ebola outbreak in West Africa since identification of virus in 1976

The current outbreak of Ebola virus is far most the deadiest in the disease history since its discovery in Congo in 1976. According to a report on the New England Journal of Medecine, also reported by the CNN, the new disease locus was detected in Meliandou, a small village of Guinea. 
As you can see from the map below, the village is located in the Guéckédou area, a region near the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. As a consequence the virus found ideal conditions to spread out in a relatively populated area (around 40-60 inhabitans for Km2). The first victim registered, the so called Patient Zero, was a 2-year-old toddler that died on 6th December 2013, just four days after contracting the virus. Symthoms, in particular in the early stages, are similar to much more common diseases of these regions like flu, typhoid fever and malaria. Therefore, taking also in consideration that previous outbreaks of the disease where first registered in central Africa it was difficult to early detect  the virus. 

Also the Traditional African burial rituals played a part in its spread: Ebola virus is not, for example, as infectious as diseases like the flu, as airborne transmission is much less likely. However, as it can survive for several days outside the body, including on the skin of an infected person and it's common practice for mourners to touch the body of the deceased. They only then need to touch their mouth to become infected. Therefore, the virus easily infected the family members of patient Zero and other villagers. However,  Ebola virus disease is generally not spread through routine social contact (such as shaking hands) with patients who do not have symptoms. You'd need to have close contact with the source of infection to be at risk .

 Other ways people can catch Ebola are by:

  • Touching the soiled clothing of an infected person, then touching their mouth 
  • Having sex with an infected person without using a condom (the virus is present in semen for up to seven weeks after the infected person has recovered) 
  • Handling unsterilised needles or medical equipment that were used in the care of the infected person 
 The image below excerpt from a sign published by the Government of Sierra Leone in collaboration with UNICEF lists some measures that citizens need to follow to prevent Ebola:

  Cases and deaths registered

Image excerpt from a post on the Intl New York Times website

 Also read
 Ebola outbreak in West Africa (Storify page by MSF)