In 1988 Côte d'Ivoire led the world in cocoa production with more than 500,000 tons. Cocoa was grown mainly on small family-owned farms with labor supplied principally by immigrants from other African countries. Production growth averaged 6 percent to 7 percent a year throughout the 1965-74 period and accelerated as the plantings of the late 1970s and the early 1980s entered their prime. The total area of cocoa cultivation more than doubled from 1973 to 1983, from 611,000 hectares to 1,398,900 hectares.
In Côte d'Ivoire, cocoa became a cash crop only in 1912, when colonial authorities forced Africans to cultivate it. Cocoa, like coffee, was a forest crop; it required ample rainfall, partial shade, and shelter from wind, all of which occurred only in the southern forest zone. Cocoa trees produced pods, which grew on the trunk and older branches, beginning at four or five years, and continued producing for twenty to thirty years. The pods were harvested from June through August and from November through January, although some pods ripened throughout the year. After harvest, the beans and pulp were extracted from the pods and allowed to ferment for six or seven days and then dried. Yields averaged 220 kilograms per hectare. The bulk of the crop was produced on small plots of one or two hectares.
Côte d'Ivoire's success as a cocoa producer has been a mixed blessing. In September 1987, cocoa prices fell to their lowest levels since 1983. In December prices were even lower following forecasts that the world surplus for the 1987-88 season would be substantially higher than the previous season's, marking the fourth successive year of a world cocoa surplus. In September 1987, talks aimed at restoring the price support mechanisms of the International Cocoa Organization ended in failure when producers and consumers were unable to agree on the price level to be defended.
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