Ivory Coast cocoa exports will reach normal volumes no sooner than the end of April as authorities iron out new tax and customs procedures, banks reopen, and security improves, shippers said.

The world’s top grower of cocoa is slowly recovering from a violent post-election power struggle, which ended last week with the arrest of former President Laurent Gbagbo.

“Exports will not fully restart until the end of the month because we need to fix a lot of things in terms of logistics, finances, and so on,” said the director of an export company based in Abidjan, who asked not to be named.

“Everyone needs to reorganize, people need to return to work, we need to quality check the stockpiles, etc., before we can start exporting,” he said.

Between 450,000 and 500,000 tonnes of cocoa is stockpiled at the West African country’s two main ports—or more than a third of the annual crop—after more than two months during which exports were halted by the conflict.

New President Alassane Ouattara said last week that he was pushing for a swift revival of the cocoa sector—the country’s main foreign revenue earner—but industry players have said they are still waiting for security to improve, banks to reopen, and export procedures to be clarified.

French container shipping group CMA CGM said on Monday its first ship would arrive in Ivory Coast on Tuesday in a step toward resuming the cocoa trade.

Cocoa Backlog
Exporters said, once shipments of beans do resume, it will take around three months to clear the backlog.

“Since Friday we have been talking to the new authorities about the conditions required for restarting exports, because we want to move quickly and there is work to be done,” another director of a European export company in Abidjan said.

“We need to streamline the bureaucratic process, but there are other issues like customs, the port, etc. We’re seriously discussing everything,” he said.

“It will take at least three months to export everything because we can only export 120,000 to 150,000 tonnes per month from the ports of San Pedro and Abidjan. Even in December, the peak of exports when there are huge volumes of beans to export, the average is 120,000 tonnes per month.”

In western Ivory Coast, scene of some of the worst violence of the power struggle, cocoa industry players said security remained one of their chief concerns.

“There are still problems with security here and in the villages because of the (pro-Ouattara) FRCI soldiers,” said the director of an export company based in San Pedro. “It does not inspire confidence to know there are armed men who can rob you and there is no one you can complain to. There is no police, there is no gendarmerie. We need a minimum of security.”

Cocoa farmers in parts of western Ivory Coast told Reuters earlier this month that many remained in hiding away from their plantations due to fears of further violence, keeping them from harvesting the slow trickle of mid-crop beans.

Exporters said, however, the industry could revive in the coming weeks as the rest of the economy restarts and that the stockpiled cocoa appeared in good condition.

“We really think we’ll be up and running no sooner than the end of the month,” said the San Pedro-based export director. “There’s lots to do. The banks need to reopen, insurance, administration, and so on, before we can start up. Without all this, we can do nothing.”

“The cocoa that is stockpiled is still good, but we’re still evaluating with the experts before making a final determination,” he said. (Reuters)