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Country profile - Côte d'Ivoire

cote d'ivoire

After gaining independence in 1960, the agricultural sector in Côte d'Ivoire saw significant growth. Export earnings from pineapple, banana, palm oil, cocoa and coffee enabled the government to invest heavily in health, education and infrastructure. By 1980 the country was the world's leading exporter of cocoa and Africa's leading exporter of pineapples and palm oil. But drought and a world recession in the early 1980s contributed to the tripling of the country's external debt while political turmoil and civil war since 2002 have continued to undermine the economy, increasing poverty rates from 15 to 62 per cent between 1985 and 2008.


Two-thirds of the population are employed in the agriculture sector, which represents 30 per cent of GDP and 70 per cent of export earnings. Rice, yam, cassava, plantain, maize and vegetables are the main food crops grown, predominantly by smallscale farmers. Côte d'Ivoire is self-sufficient in cassava, yam and banana but depends heavily on imports for rice, milk and dairy products, meat and fish.

Low agricultural productivity, low purchasing prices, high cost of inputs, considerable post-harvest losses, inadequate use of modern farming techniques, and the ageing of coffee, cocoa and oil palm plantations have been blamed for keeping farmers' incomes low. Dysfunctional cooperatives, a lack of modernisation and mechanisation, inadequate subsidies and lack of arable land as a result of population growth have all contributed to a decline in agricultural production.

Two-thirds of the population are employed in the agriculture sector (© IFAD/Christine Nesbitt)
Two-thirds of the population are employed in the agriculture sector
© IFAD/Christine Nesbitt

The country falls into two distinct agricultural regions: the forest region in the south and the drier savannah in the north. With higher and more reliable rainfall and better soils, the forest region produces the majority of the export crops. Côte d'Ivoire is the world's largest cocoa producer, the majority of which is grown by smallholder farmers on less than three hectares. Coffee, rubber, cotton, pineapple, banana, palm oil, cashew nut and tobacco are also important export crops.

With much of Côte d'Ivoire affected by tsetse flies, cattle tend to be concentrated in the north of the country. While almost all poultry consumed is produced domestically, domestic beef production only meets about 40 per cent of demand. Sheep, goats, and pigs are also important, but high input costs, limited veterinary services, poor access to markets, and low productivity of traditional breeds have kept incomes low.

Despite low national production, the fisheries sector provides 30 per cent of fish consumed in the country. Abidjan is the second largest tuna landing port in the Atlantic and with three processing plants tuna is also canned for export. Most artisanal fishermen target small pelagic fish and sardines and these are usually sold fresh or smoked. Of the 10,000 artisanal fishermen in Ivorian waters, 90 per cent are Ghanaian, with Ivorians dominating fishing in lagoons, continental waters and the nascent aquaculture industry.

The conversion of forest for agricultural production, including coffee and cocoa production, and the extraction of timber (Côte d'Ivoire's third highest source of earnings) has caused enormous damage, reducing forest cover from 12 million hectares in 1960 to 2.8 million ha in 2007, a loss of over 75 per cent in less than 50 years. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), unregulated deforestation and intensive farming have also led to advancing degradation of the savannah and loss of soil fertility.

Cocoa - sustaining its future

Approximately 6 million people are employed in the cocoa industry, which also contributes about 40 per cent of annual export revenue. As a result, the volatility of international cocoa prices has a significant impact on poverty. A lack of competition also means that farmers often capture as little as 0.5 per cent of the retail price for cocoa. Recent political turmoil has also impacted the industry, which saw cocoa exports banned for three months after international sanctions were implemented following the disputed 2010 presidential election.

The cocoa industry employs 6 million people (© Keith Weller/USDA)
The cocoa industry employs 6 million people
© Keith Weller/USDA

Cocoa is also susceptible to disease and, coupled with aging trees, means that cocoa yields in Côte d'Ivoire are amongst the lowest in the world at about 500kg per hectare compared to 2 tonnes in Indonesia and 1.5 tonnes in Ghana. Transmitted by mealybugs, swollen shoot disease kills entire trees, while black pod disease is a fungus that dries and shrivels beans. As part of a plan to boost productivity and improve the quality of the cocoa beans, Nestle has increased distribution of high-yielding diseases-resistant cocoa trees. By the end of 2011 the company hopes to have distributed over 1.5 million saplings since July 2011.

In partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre, Mars has also launched a programme to revive the cocoa industry and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers. The project hopes to increase yields from an average of 400kg to 1,500kg per hectare by rehabilitating old cocoa gardens, using improved sources of germplasm and encouraging best practices. Although the project was put on hold during the 2010 political crisis, training has begun and two cocoa demonstration centres have been established to support farmers and extension workers.

Climate change is also a concern. According to a recent report from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), expected temperature rises caused by climate change will leave many areas in West Africa unable to grow cocoa. As ideal growing areas gradually shift to higher altitudes, further deforestation is likely to occur. In addition to suggesting greater use of shade trees and growing cash and food crops together in case one crop fails, the report calls for renewed research into new cocoa varieties that will tolerate higher temperatures.

Maximising potential

For at least 15 years, the agricultural sector will remain the engine of Côte d'Ivoire's economy (© IFAD/Christine Nesbitt)
For at least 15 years, the agricultural sector will remain the engine of Côte d'Ivoire's economy
© IFAD/Christine Nesbitt

After Côte d'Ivoire's post-election crisis in 2010, the country remains fragile and unstable. International donors are ready to step in to help a country that has enormous potential to expand and develop its agricultural sector, but experts warn that widespread corruption must also be tackled. Over 13,000 farmers have already benefitted from a project conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to restore and upgrade 11,000 hectares of coffee and cocoa plantations in areas hit hardest during the 2010 post-election crisis. The IMF has also recently approved a US$615 million loan to accelerate the country's economic recovery.

In spite of its weaknesses, recent studies show that for at least the next 15 years, the agricultural sector will remain the engine of Côte d'Ivoire's economy. But the Ministry of Agriculture has the challenge of reforming the sector and increasing production in a way that protects the environment. The Ministry has also highlighted the need to add value to the vast array of raw materials, including cocoa and rubber, which it currently exports.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Côte d'Ivoire
  • Capital: Yamoussoukro
  • Area: 322,463 sq km
  • Population: 21,504,162 (July 2011 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 2.1% (2011 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 57 (2011 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Akan 42.1%, Voltaiques or Gur 17.6%, Northern Mandes 16.5%, Krous 11%, Southern Mandes 10%, other 2.8%
  • Languages: French (official), 60 native dialects of which Dioula is the most widely spoken
  • Inflation: 1.1% (2010 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$37.02 billion (2010 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$1,800 (2010 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 28%; industry: 21.3%; services: 50.7% (2010 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 10.233%; permanent crops: 11.16%; other: 78.61% (2005)
  • Major industries: foodstuffs, beverages; wood products, oil refining, truck and bus assembly, textiles, fertilizer, building materials, electricity, ship construction and repair
  • Agricultural products: coffee, cocoa beans, bananas, palm kernels, corn, rice, cassava (tapioca), sweet potatoes, sugar, cotton, rubber; timber
  • Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, diamonds, manganese, iron ore, cobalt, bauxite, copper, gold, nickel, tantalum, silica sand, clay, cocoa beans, coffee, palm oil, hydropower
  • Export commodities: cocoa, coffee, timber, petroleum, cotton, bananas, pineapples, palm oil, fish
  • Export partners: US 10.2%, Netherlands 10%, Nigeria 7.7%, Ghana 6.7%, Germany 6.2%, France 6.2%, Burkina Faso 4.5% (2010)

Written by: Louis Amede

Date published: December 2011


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