A precocious, calibrated and hyper-productive cocoa… The ideal product for Ivorian planters and mills materialized 8 years ago with Mercedes cocoa, a hybrid variety developed by the CNRA in Côte d’Ivoire on which the country, the world’s largest cocoa producer is banking for economic recovery, its economy being undermined in recent years by falling prices. Zoom in on the scope and the limits of the cocoa sector’s star seed.
A magic bean for planters
Is Mercedes cocoa the key to economic recovery in Côte d’Ivoire?
“[It saves us a little more money […], and we do not get too tired from maintenance.]” Born out of crossing different species, Mercedes cocoa is the result of 40 years of research conducted by Côte d’Ivoire’s National Center for Agronomic Research (CNRA). Rightly named Mercedes (synonymous with racing cars in Côte d’Ivoire), this variety starts to produce just 18 months after planting – rather than 6 years for conventional plants – with a full yield at 7 years and a longevity of 40 years. Mercedes cocoa isn’t just precocious: calibrated to the expectations of cocoa manufacturers, it produces rounder pods, larger and heavier beans, and has so far been immune to Swollen shoot virus.
Ivorian Operators’ Golden Bean
With its attributes, the Ivorian cocoa sedan has created a small revolution with its productivity of up to 1.5 tonnes per hectare versus only one third of a ton for old strains. A real economic windfall for Côte d’Ivoire, which holds 35% of the world market share and whose traditional orchards are getting older. This Ivorian sector currently supports more than 8 million people and accounts for 40% of the country’s exports. Hence the growing dream of Ivorian operators fueled by the unprecedented record generated by the 2013-2014 campaign, amounting to more than 1.7 million tonnes – 300,000 tonnes more than the previous year. But what is it really?
A Revolution in the Margins of Global ProductionDespite these strengths, Mercedes cocoa only makes up a small part of Ivorian plantations, compared to 12 million hectares of conventional plantations. CNRA‘s supply capacity is limited – last year, the center was able to supply only 42,000 hectares. In addition, planters can not afford to invest in seedlings, and most of those who produce Mercedes use archaic harvesting and post-harvesting methods. The state is currently counting on incentives to guarantee the planter’s purchase price, and Nestlé‘s commitment to providing 12 million seedlings over 10 years – a far from selfless way of helping sustain their supply.