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calendar   Thursday - March 31, 2011

Your Pound Of Beans

Meanwhile In Africa

Ouattara forces take Ivorian port of San Pedro




image Forces loyal to Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara have seized the major cocoa port of San Pedro, extending a nationwide offensive that has left incumbent Laurent Gbagbo isolated in the main city, Abidjan.

In a blow to Gbagbo, his army chief of staff, General Phillippe Mangou, sought refuge in the South African ambassador’s residence in Abidjan. A South African spokesman denied rumors that Gbagbo was on the way to South Africa.

Residents and combatants from both sides said the pro-Ouattara forces were in control of western port town of San Pedro, and that it was now largely calm apart from some sporadic shooting.

Reuters witnesses in the main city, Abidjan, Gbagbo’s last remaining stronghold, said the streets were virtually empty and gunfire could be heard overnight and on Thursday morning, but it was not clear who was involved.

Gbagbo has resisted pressure from the African Union and the West to step down since a presidential election last November, which U.N.-certified results showed he lost to Ouattara by an 8-point margin, sparking a deadly power struggle.

But forces loyal to Ouattara launched an offensive this week on three fronts, and towns across the country fell, mostly without resistance, one after another as they swept south.

Cocoa prices have fallen about 9 percent since on the push. The capture of San Pedro, which ships half of the top grower’s beans, could, in theory, mean a resumption in exports.

Diplomats said on Thursday that European Union sanctions, including an embargo on cocoa shipments from San Pedro, would remain in place and if any exemption were discussed it would take four or five days to come into force.


So, who cares? Well, you do, even if you don’t know it. The Ivory Coast provides nearly half the world’s cocoa, and the unrest there has caused the commodity price to skyrocket. Neighboring Ghana and Nigeria Cocoa together produce a bit less than le Côte d’Ivoire; the 3 West African nations account for a touch more than 2/3 of world production. Ghana and Nigeria are having their own political instabilities.

Cocoa bean production is not a huge business; only about 3.4 million metric tons (1000 kilos = 2200lbs) a year of beans are grown worldwide. With more than 6 billion people in the world this amounts to just about 1 pound of cocoa beans per person annually.

Politics in the Ivory Coast are typically African, tribal crossed with religious, and too complicated for outsiders to understand, but when they had a civil war there 8 years ago cocoa prices took a huge jump from which they never fully recovered.  Laurent Gbagbo was president before, during, and after the war, so I guess his forces won. A few months ago they held an election and he lost, although his people obviously rigged the numbers and he claimed victory. Since then he has refused to step down, and this has plunged the country right back into civil war. Thanks a lot. At this point in time it looks like rebel leader and election winner Alassane Ouattara and his followers are winning, and with their troops seizing the one decent port in the country international market fears are easing.


image

current commodity price link



This is some interesting economics, considering that there is a worldwide sanction on cocoa from the Ivory Coast right now. In theory they are not part of the current market, so how could the situation there impact global pricing? I guess the answer is that they are still growing the beans, and they have to be piled up in warehouses somewhere. World demand is fairly stable, so with only 1/3 of the product currently available from the other producer nations, this would cause a rather skittish market. But it is more complex than that, because cocoa is not created in a factory. The beans are grown on trees, and the pods ripen whenever they feel like it. This means the main harvest season lasts 7 months, and the minor secondary harvest season lasts another 3 months. Right now we are just into the no harvest at all period.

Cocoa farming is on the decline in several of the other producer nations. The trees take 5 or 6 years to mature and can produce for 50 years or more, but there just isn’t much money in it for the farmers. I find that interesting in itself, because the commodity price is more than half again as high now than it was when the Ivorian civil war started, and that price (around $2200/mt) was nearly 3 times as high as the price was just 2 years earlier in 2000 ($800/mt). Even if you ignore February’s record shattering price of over $3700/mt, a 32 year high and the current drop from there, cocoa beans are selling at more than 4 times the price they were a decade ago. Go figure. You’d think people would be planting left and right. I guess it’s just too much hard work, even though most of it is done by children.

Some analysts say that up to a quarter million of the pod pickers are small children, and there are very strong allegations that many of these children are kept as slaves. But given the typical abhorrent living conditions in Africa and their standard horrific inhumanity and barbarism, how could you tell? But before you feel all guilty and start searching for only Fair Trade chocolate to buy, you should know that the cocoa pods can usually only be harvested by children. The cocoa tree is fragile and the pods grow from the trunk, not from the branches. Adults climbing the trees damage them, and monkeys can’t be used because they don’t differentiate between the ripe pods and the unripe ones. So child labor is it. Don’t forget that the Turd World has a very different view on child labor than the spoiled and decadent west. What we see as child abuse they see as giving children the work opportunity to not starve to death.

Oh, and the root of all the problems in the Ivory Coast? You don’t even have to guess; you know what the answer is. Pisslam. Of course! When the French controlled the Ivory Coast it was a wonderland, with some of the highest per capita income and standard of living on the entire continent. This continued for several decades after independence in 1960, but at some point the Ivorians started importing foreign labor to do the scut work. And guess who showed up?

A former French colony and the world’s top cocoa producer, Ivory Coast was once regarded as a haven of peace and stability, until a 1999 coup that toppled president Henri Konan Bedie. Long considered a peaceful country, that welcomed millions of immigrant workers to sustain a booming economy after its independence from France in 1960, up to 40 percent of the 16 million population is now foreign. The immigrants inflamed political, religious and ethnic frictions between the largely Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south and west.

Until his death in 1993, these disputes were kept under control by the country’s post-independence president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny. But like Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the ancient ethnic and religious animosities were still there, and were exploited by rival politicians after Houphouet-Boigny was gone. Elections were held and Laurent Gbagbo, a southern nationalist, won. He tried to improve his control of the country by forcing northerners out of the security forces, and have millions of them declared foreigners, and ineligible to vote.

This led to the first round of fighting in 2002. The French sent in troops, to at least prevent escalation, and with UN help, a ceasefire was achieved in 2003. But in late 2004, the ceasefire was broken with government air raids on rebel bases in the north.

Until the push south this week, the worst of the violence had centered on Abidjan, where anti-Gbagbo insurgents, who do not necessarily support Ouattara, have seized parts of town.

In a sign violence could spin out of control, the army called on Gbagbo’s often violent youth wing to enlist in the military. They have been fired up with anti-French, anti-foreigner and anti-U.N. propaganda, and on Wednesday the army started openly handing out weapons to them.

Currently there are 11,000 UN Blue Helmets in the Ivory Coast, the vast majority of them being other Africans. So you know what that means ... it’s a mess. A chocolate mess.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 03/31/2011 at 09:33 AM   
Filed Under: • AfricaEconomicsFine-DiningPoliticsWar-Stories •  
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