IVORY COAST COCOA, COFFEE AND PROSPERITY
Abidjan, Ivory Coast
The morning sun begins to burn through the thick white mist hanging over the tropical forest canopy. Emmanuel Gnakpa loads cocoa saplings in black plastic casings onto the back of his dilapidated bicycle.
He hoists himself onto the seat, steadies the old bike, which trembles and swerves under its burden, and pedals off down a path hemmed in by towering hardwoods, oil palms, and rank ferns. He disappears quickly in the all-pervading green tangle of the forest.
Like nearly all of his fellow Dida tribesmen in Braboray, a village in the southern rain forest of the West African nation of Ivory Coast, Mr. Gnakpa grows cocoa and coffee destined for export. The cocoa will be processed into chocolate bars and the coffee eventually freeze-dried for consumers in Europe and North America.
The Dida, who never eat chocolate and only drink coffee when they leave the villages and go to live in towns, hardly understand how the West uses their crops.
With help from his two wives in planting and harvesting, and from occasional day laborers and pieceworkers who hack out the underbush with steel machetes, Mr. Gnakpa has managed to wrestle five acres of cocoa trees and two acres of newly planted coffee shrubs from the precocious forest vegetation.
Last year he raised 1,810 pounds of cocoa beans, worth about $1,000. His coffee bushes were still too young to yield the tiny round, red-brown coffee fruit. But he expects the coffee to start bearing during the 1980-81 season.
According to custom, the cash proceeds from the first crop will go to Mr. Gnakpa's wives, for buying cloth and dried fish.
Less than a kilometer from Mr. Gnakpa, Haruna Ilboudo is standing in front of his tin-roofed house, spreading wet, frothy cocoa beans over the surface of a hand-woven fiber mat elevated two or three feet off the ground on a wood frame. He uses a long-handled wooden rake to distribute the cocoa in a thin, even layer on the mat, where ti will be left for a week to dry thoroughly.
Unlike Mr. Gnakpa, whose ancestors have inhabited the Ivoirian forest for centuries and whose tribe still believes that its world is peopled by tree spirits, Mr. Ilboudo is a newcomer. He is an immigrant drawn to the southern Ivory Coast by the lure of export commodities, primarily cocoa and coffee.
Like thousands of his fellow Mossi tribesmen, he left the parched grasslands of Upper Volta, to the north, in 1958, to seek his fortune in the Ivory Coast. After nine years as a shopkeeper in a nearby town, he saved enough money to buy a derelict coffee farm and a tract of forest land in Braboray, 15 acres in all.
Last year, with the assistance of his wife and son and two unmarried brothers , Mr. Ilboudo harvested, fermented, sun-cured, and marketed more than three tons of cocoa, worth nearly $3,500, far more than he could ever hope to earn as a farmer in his home country.
Mr. Gnakpa and Mr. Ilboudo are typical of the hundreds of thousands of small farmers who have made the Ivory Coast the most prosperous country in West Africa. It has become the largest cocoa exporter in the world and the leading coffee grower in Africa -- trailing only Brazil and colombia in world coffee output.
Encouraged by stable producer prices, government subsidies for tools, fertilizer, and insecticide, and bonuses for new acreage, Ivoirian cocoa farmers have boosted production from around 100,000 metric tons in 1960 to a predicted 300,000 tons for the current 1979-80 crop.
Coffee production has increased steadily, too, though less dramatically, standing at an expected 285,000 tons for the current harvest.
These high levels of cocoa and coffee output have allowed the Ivory Coast to maintain an average growth in gross national product of around 7 percent a year since 1960, a unique figure for Africa. Average per capita income surged over the $1,000 mark in 1978, making the Ivory Coast the only black African country in that category except for oil-rich Gabon.
The key to the Ivory Coast's 20 years of unbroken development success appears to be its emphasis on smallholder agriculture, supported by economic incentives and extension services for farmers, and by a major expansion of the transport infrastructure to link rural areas with the port cities.
Other West African countries that followed different development strategies, such as Guinea with its priority on industrial projects, or Ghana with its complete reorganization of the agricultural sector in the 1960s, have seen these moves result in economic disaster.
While many African countries have been rocked by political upheaval during the last two decades, the Ivoirian government's consistent promotion of agriculture has taken place in an atmosphere of complete political stability. The country is dominated by President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the country's sole leader since its independence from France in 1960.
This political stability has offered security to the more than 60,000 Frenchmen and the estimated 100,000 Lebanese in the Ivory Coast, who together make up one of the largest non-African populations in black-ruled Africa. While many African states in recent years have expelled their European, Middle Eastern , and Asian residents, the Ivory Coast has actually increased its expatriate population since independence.
French expatriates perform thousands of technical and managerial jobs in both the public and private sectors, including the large plantations and the half-dozen agricultural-research institutes. The Lebanese play a dominant role in Ivoirian commerce, and, acting as middlemen for large French export firms, they buy most of the country's cocoa and coffee from African farmers.
The Ivory Coast's agricultural boom has benefited from ideal conditions of plentiful land and cheap labor. Farm pioneers in recent years have invaded the sparsely populated parts of the forest zone, especially the southwestern region near the Liberian border. Government controls over agricultural wages have held the salaries of hundreds of thousands of workers from poor neighboring countries at a low level, thereby inflating farm profits.
The Ivoirian government estimates that there are more than 400,000 cocoa and coffee growers in the country, managing parcels of 10 to 12 acres on an average, with many of these farmers raising both cocoa and coffee as a hedge against weather conditions, insect pests, and plant diseases, which can ruin one crop in a given year while the other crop flourishes.
Among the thousands of farm-owners who have shared the Ivoirian prosperity, the original inhabitants of the forest zone are well represented. Few of them are landless, and the most enterprising and affluent now live in ceement-brick "villas" furnished with gasoline-driven electric generators and battery-powered television sets.
In addition, a large number of the export-crop producers, and often the most dynamic ones, are Ivoirian newcomers from the northern and central savanna regions and immigrants from neighboring countries such as Upper Volta, Mali, and Guinea.
For the administrative district in which Braboray is situated, for example, immigrants from the Baule Tribe, with its roots in the central Ivory Coast, have become the wealthiest cocoa farmers. Their economic success is due chiefly to the Baule's ability to recruit relatives as unpaid agricultural workers, and to the large supplemental incomes the Baule women earn from the sale of food crops such as yams, cassava, plantains, okra, tomatoes, and hot peppers.
The exact number of farm immigrants in the Ivory Coast is unknown, but reliable unofficial reports suggest that more than a third of the country's entire population of 8 million is made up of foreigners, with at least half of them living in rural areas. For the Divo administrative district, more than 60 percent of the inhabitants belong to nonlocal tribes, referred to as "strangers" by the minority indigenous Dida.
The Ivory Coast's boom in cocoa and coffee output -- the creation of rural wealth on a scale unparalleled in black Africa -- has not been painless, however. The great social, economic, and demographic shifts of the last 20 years have spawned their own set of problems.
Not surprisingly, the original inhabitants of the forest region resent the economic success of the dynamic immigrant groups, and they are frustrated by their own impotence to halt the massive wave of immigration they see engulfing their homeland. They frequently accuse the immigrants of illegal encroachment on their forest reserves, of failing to show traditional respect for the indigenous farmers who have sold them farm plots, and of refusing to contribute to local projects such as schools and hospitals.
"The foreigners who have settled in our village have devoured so much of the land that there is nothing left for my children," says Mr. Gnakpa. "I can only hope now that they do well enough in school to find good jobs in town."
The immigrant farmers respond to these accusations by arguing that they are the key to the Ivory Coast's economic miracle, and that they are committed to local development. "Without us, the indigenous people would still be hunting wild animals for a living," Mr. Ilboudo says. "Besides, the government has told us that any unused land we put into production belong to us."
Another problem is that inequities among the Ivory Coast's export producers are widening. In the face of this trend, the Ivoirian government has tried to show that an egalitarian mass of small farmers accounts for all of the Ivory Coast's agricultural production. in a recent magazine article, a government spokesman stated that "there are no social classes or bourgeoisie in the Ivory Coast. We Ivoirians are all sons of peasants."
While it is true that smallholders still form the backbone of the agricultural sector, economists point to a process of increasing concentration of farmland and incomes in the hands of a few individuals. Most of these agricultural entrepreneurs are not self-made peasant farmers, but come from the ranks of top government officials, wealthy merchants, and urban-based professionals.
President Houpnouet-Boigny is portrayed by the local press as the "first peasant of the nation." He is reported, however, to own the nation." He is reported, however, to own the largest pineapple plantation in the country and one of the biggest mechanized poultry farms. Also, in 1978 he donated more than a thousand acres of his private cocoa and coffee plantation to the Ivoirian state.
Many of the small village-born-and-bred farmers complain that when it comes to obtaining government loans and agricultural extension services, they are discriminated against in favor of state officials and other large absentee landowners. It is said in the Ivory Coast that these privileged groups "pass by the back corridor" to gain state aid, while ordinary people have to "line up at the front door."
Despite this increasing rural inequality and the strains among the many indigenous and immigrant groups divided by cultural, linguistic, and religious differences -- most of the indigenous people are Christians, for example, while the Malians and Upper Voltans are generally Muslims -- the cocoa and coffee farmers' complaints have not crystallized into political protest or inter-ethnic violence.
The main reason that protest has been muted is that Ivoirian cocoa and coffee producers' real incomes have generally risen over the past 20 years, an exeptionally long and consistent upward trend for an African nation. Farmers also have seen new public infrastructure, such as tarred roads, primary schools, maternity clinics, and central markets, which are financed largely by government earnings from cocoa and coffee exports, add to their improved standards of living.
The principal threat to Ivoirian prosperity at present, and thus perhaps to political stability, is inflation, which has increased sharply in the last few years, running at between 15 and 30 percent annually.
The Ivory Coast government boosted the officially mandated farm-gate prices for cocoa and coffee by 20 percent in October in an attempt to keep pace with this galloping inflation.