Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast) (AFP)

The cocoa farmers of Côte d'Ivoire, the world's largest producer, continued their media offensive on Thursday against multinational chocolate companies, which they accuse of reducing them to poverty by underpaying "brown gold", threatening them with " boycott ".

Public accusations that could be costly in terms of image and sales and to large chocolate groups, already in the hot seat for several years on ethical issues.

"We will boycott the activities of all industrialists who will oppose the DRD", the decent income differential, a premium of $ 400 per tonne of cocoa (in addition to the market price) supposed to be paid by the multinationals for the planters , declared in a joint statement four important organizations of cocoa farmers (FOPCC, ANACACI, APROPAM and FNFPCC).

They brought together some 500 delegates in Yamoussoukro, during a meeting with the Café Cacao Council (CCC), the public body for the management of the sector.

The leaders of the four organizations cited the suspension of their "collaboration on sustainability and certification programs" and even threatened to stop producing cocoa.

"It's a question of survival. We are ready to go all the way. We can suspend our cocoa production for a year or two and turn to other crops," said Soro Penatirgué, president of the National Association of Agricultural Cooperatives of Côte d'Ivoire (ANACACI).

Marcellin Kouakou, a 51-year-old farmer who produces three tonnes of cocoa per year in the region of Oumé (center) told AFP "just got by with 500,000 CFA francs" (750 euros) in annual income to support his two wives and 10 children.

This new media offensive comes after accusations publicly launched Monday by Ivory Coast and Ghana against two giant American chocolate makers, Hershey and Mars, of not paying the DRD.

These countries are the two largest cocoa producers in the world with respectively more than 40 and 20% of the market.

- Communication and marketing -

The CCC and its Ghanaian counterpart Cocobod announced the immediate suspension of all Hershey's certification programs in both countries.

Côte d'Ivoire, where President Alassane Ouattara has just been re-elected, and Ghana, where President Nana Akufo-Addo is aiming for re-election on December 7, have even denounced a "plot" by multinational chocolate companies to "impoverish" "three million West African peasants".

Hershey and Mars protested their good faith, claiming to pay the DRD and support the small planters.

The DRD was imposed last year by the two West African countries on multinational cocoa trading and processing and large chocolate groups, in order to better remunerate tropical planters.

They are the poor relations of the world cocoa and chocolate market, from which they receive only 6% of the 100 billion dollars of annual income.

Half of Ivorian planters live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

The certification programs for chocolate makers aim to ensure that they buy "sustainable" cocoa that meets ethical production criteria (not leading to deforestation or using child labor in particular).

They are an important element of communication and marketing aimed at Western consumers.

Coincidentally, in a completely different case in the United States, two multinational cocoa and chocolate trading companies, Cargill and Nestlé, are being prosecuted for complicity in the forced labor of children on cocoa plantations in Côte d'Ivoire.

Present at the meeting with Yamoussoukro, the director general of the Ivorian Café Cacao Council, Yves Koné, tempered the words of the planters, clearly opening the door to negotiation.

"We must work together with the industrialists. I am confident. Even if there is reluctance, I am convinced that they will accept that we pay the planters better," he told AFP.

© 2020 AFP