With Ebola held at bay, Ivorian cocoa harvest begins

With Ebola held at bay, Ivorian cocoa harvest begins

Although Côte d’Ivoire’s proximity to countries affected by Ebola puts it at risk, the precautionary measures already taken will likely head off any significant outbreak and insulate the cocoa industry from disruption.

Bordering two countries heavily affected by the Ebola outbreak, Côte d’Ivoire has remarkably been able avoid the spread of Ebola. Originally, the panicked government decided to close borders and halt flights from affected countries. But amidst regional and international pressure, Côte d’Ivoire re-opened its borders in October.

As the rainy season comes to an end and the cocoa harvest begins, increasing labor flow to and from isolated border communities will increase the likelihood of Ebola spreading into the country. However, the Ivorian government has worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) to prepare its health infrastructure for a possible outbreak, and Côte d’Ivoire it is now relatively well-equipped to handle such a scenario. Although the risk of Ebola spreading into Côte d’Ivoire is high, the potential for drastic economic impacts, as seen in other affected countries, is minimal.

Total Ebola cases as of November 14, 2014. Regions bordering Cote d’Ivoire can be seen on the right. Source: World Health Organisation

Ebola next door

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has essentially halted economic activity in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and it remains to be seen what economic impacts there will be on neighboring countries and the West African region. For Côte d’Ivoire, the economic impacts so far have been minimal, as consequences of the outbreak have mostly been felt in the tourism sector.

International fears about Ebola have significantly reduced travel to West African countries, both for tourism and for business purposes. However, Côte d’Ivoire’s agriculture, energy and mining sectors have been minimally affected, as activity in these sectors is not influenced by the international perceptions of Ebola

The areas of Guinea and Liberia bordering Côte d’Ivoire have so far been the least affected by the Ebola outbreak, with fewer than 50 cases and deaths. Natural barriers isolating these areas, including terrible road conditions during the rainy season, have partially protected them from spread of the outbreak.

However, as the rainy season is coming to a close, the likelihood of further Ebola cases will also increase. With Côte d’Ivoire opening border crossings with Guinea and Liberia, movement across the borders for trade and labor purposes will begin.

Typically, populations in border regions are highly mobile and Liberians and Guineans migrate into Côte d’Ivoire for work on cocoa farms during the annual harvest. This increases the risk that someone affected with Ebola will cross into Côte d’Ivoire and potentially infect residents in the Western border regions. Although the risk of Ebola spreading through air travel is low, it is also possible the disease will spread to Abidjan, which is a West African airport hub.

However, it is unlikely the outbreak will spread on a larger scale, as Côte d’Ivoire is now fairly well-equipped to treat and isolate patients and trace contacts. Isolation centers have been built in Abidjan and equipped with protective equipment, and healthcare workers have been trained. In the Western regions bordering Liberia and Guinea, twenty isolation units have been built—Liberia still has only six.

NGOs and government have also begun to spread awareness messages throughout the country about Ebola prevention. In the scenario that a case spreads to Côte d’Ivoire, there is a very small chance that it will spread as rapidly as in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The more likely scenario is that Côte d’Ivoire will witness a handful of cases, but successfully mitigate an outbreak like Nigeria, Senegal and Mali have done in the past few months.

Should cocoa investors be concerned?

As Côte d’Ivoire provides 40% of the world’s cocoa, the risks posed by Ebola are especially high during the main harvesting season that occurs October through March. Cocoa is Côte d’Ivoire’s largest export, and a large percentage of the population depends on the cocoa harvest for income. In August, cocoa prices spiked to a three-year high due to fears that Ebola would spread into Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Prices eased back in October, indicating that the worst of the shock was over. If Ebola was to spread into Côte d’Ivoire, it is likely prices would rise again for the short-term due to changes in perceptions that supply would decrease.

However, it is unlikely supply will actually be affected by the outbreak. Although cocoa farms generally benefit from Liberian and Guinean migrant labor during harvesting season, there is no shortage of migrant labor from other countries and within Côte d’Ivoire to replace this. To date, cocoa production has proceeded as planned despite the outbreak. Nonetheless, investors should keep a close eye on the situation, particularly in light of the ending rainy season.

About Author

Marina Tolchinsky

Marina Tolchinsky has previous experience with economic policy research in sub-Saharan Africa and monitoring and evaluation of development programs. She has lived and worked in Liberia, Ghana, and South Africa. Marina is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) concentrating in International Economics and African Studies.