ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The number of people fleeing illegal Ivorian cocoa plantations has more than doubled in the last three weeks to nearly 7,000 amid ethnic disputes, the Red Cross said on Monday, potentially denting the harvest in the world’s top grower.
Nine people have been killed in the past two weeks in forest reserves in western Ivory Coast during clashes between native groups and migrants from neighbouring countries and other parts of Ivory Coast, officials told Reuters.
About 6,700 people have been displaced since last month when members of the We alliance from the Guere, Yacouba and Wobe ethnic groups entered the Cavally and Gouin-Debe reserves and threatened ethnic Baoules and migrants from Burkina Faso farming there, a senior official at the local Red Cross said.
Humanitarian groups and local officials said 3,000 had been displaced earlier this month.
According to famers and exporters, the volume of cocoa beans has dropped from the area and is expected to decline further as farmers continue to flee.
The cocoa season in Ivory Coast began on Oct. 1 following a record harvest of over 2 million tonnes last season. Production is expected to start in earnest next month.
Ivorian cocoa farmers have long established illegal plantations inside national parks and forest reserves, but the phenomenon accelerated during and after a 2002-11 civil war that was fought largely along ethnic lines.
The Ivorian Parks and Reserves Office (OIPR) estimates that up to 40 percent of Ivorian cocoa production comes from illegal plantations.
“The Baoules and the Burkinabes have 90 percent of the cocoa plantations in the region,” said Mamadou Kone, a bean counter in the area. He had already bought 140 tonnes by this time last year, compared to 49 tonnes so far this season
“The crisis has forced them out of the villages and there is no one to harvest. All the cocoa is still in the bush,” he said.
Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Edward McAllister; editing by Ralph Boulton