The news could have gone unnoticed amid the noise of the African Football Cup of Nations (CAN): Côte d’Ivoire has suspended the export of its main foodstuffs since January 15 for six months. A concise note distributed by the government lists twenty products, including cassava and yam, five cereals including rice, five vegetables and several processed products, including the famous cassava semolina, attiéké, a pillar of Ivorian cuisine .

The note is signed by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Souleymane Diarrassouba, and the Minister of Finance and Budget, Adama Coulibaly. Based on a 2022 decree which establishes prior authorization for the export of any food product, the text justifies this new measure in the name of “the food security of populations living in Côte d’Ivoire” and promises sanctions to offenders. .

How can we explain this sudden protectionist shift? Questioned by Le Monde, the government spokesperson and Minister of Communication, Amadou Coulibaly, denounces the “speculation on food products which are often purchased farm gate at low prices for the benefit of regional markets where they are sold at low prices. gold” and says he fears “a long dry season this year.” “With the addition of the presence of more than 1.5 million people coming from other countries for the CAN, the pressure on the availability of food products is becoming strong,” he explains.

Since independence in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire has based its economy on cash-crop agriculture intended for export (cocoa, coffee, rubber, cashew, cotton, peanuts) and has invested very little in subsistence agriculture. It is only very recently that the government changed its tune and declared that food self-sufficiency was a “top priority”.

The global economic crises caused by Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have revealed weaknesses in the Ivorian supply system, linked in particular to its dependence on imports for certain consumer products such as rice, soft wheat and Fish. In 2022, Côte d’Ivoire spent more than 1,300 billion CFA francs (nearly 2 billion euros) on importing food products.

“A measure that will not be very effective”

Rice, which appears in the list published on January 15, had already been banned from export since September. With domestic consumption estimated at 2.45 million tonnes in 2022-2023, Côte d’Ivoire is the continent’s leading importer and has spent 500 billion CFA francs in 2022, while it exports only 31 000 tonnes per year. As for wheat, it is not mentioned in the list since Ivory Coast does not produce it.

It is difficult for producers, on the other hand, to understand the criteria used by the government concerning the rest of the products banned from export, as the volumes concerned are so low. For example, of the 5 to 8 million tonnes of cassava that it produces annually, Ivory Coast only exports 100,000 tonnes. It also produces 7 million tonnes of yams per year but exports none, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), or in negligible quantities.

In a 2019 report, the AfDB already estimated that Côte d’Ivoire was self-sufficient for several basic products: yam was available at 106.9%, cassava at 101.1% and vegetable products at 107.4%. %. That is to say the bulk of the diet of Ivorians, since cereals, roots and tubers contribute more than two thirds to the total energy availability, specifies the report, that is to say the quantity of calories ingested by the population.

“The products indexed by the government are only exported very marginally,” confirms, on condition of anonymity, an annoyed producer. This is a measure which will not be very effective in substance and which was promulgated with condescension, since the authorities published the text before consulting the players in these sectors. »The latter became aware of the ban at the same time as the rest of Ivorian citizens, through the press or on the government website. The few exporters of these food products now have very little time to find an alternative to sell their products.

Manual and rain-fed agriculture

“We were preparing orders for external customers and now, unfortunately, everything is blocked,” laments the director of a semi-industrial company marketing flour and dehydrated tubers, who also requested anonymity: “It will be a great loss, for us and for our customers. » Certain products manufactured by the company, such as fermented cassava and corn flours, are only listed in Western supermarkets, and therefore cannot be sold as is on the local market.

“This ban is a sword in the water,” confirms Ivorian agronomist Marie-Paule Okri. The problem with our agricultural system is not exports, it is our entire agricultural policy that must be rethought, starting by increasing the productivity of our food crops. » While extensive agriculture has cost Ivory Coast 90% of its forest cover since 1960, cereal yields in West Africa remain four times lower than those in Southeast Asia, d Europe or Latin America, and 50% lower than those in East Africa, according to a report published in 2021 by the French Development Agency (AFD).

The investments made in recent years by the government and international donors, with grants of equipment and agricultural inputs to food cooperatives, are starting to bear fruit. In the 2021-2022 campaign, food production was up 5.4% compared to the average of the last five years. But subsistence agriculture remains overwhelmingly manual and rain-fed, therefore particularly vulnerable to disruptions in the rainy calendar induced by climate change. Cocoa harvests were historically poor last year, passion fruit has disappeared from the shelves and even mangoes are rare.

“We also encounter a big conservation problem,” continues Marie-Paule Okri, “with considerable post-harvest losses. » To remedy this, agronomists recommend improving harvest storage and packaging, but also providing producers with processing units close to the harvesting site. A challenge, since in both subsistence and commercial agriculture, Ivory Coast exports the vast majority of its unprocessed agricultural products: 88% of its cashew nuts, three quarters of its coffee and two thirds of its beans of cocoa.