* Ivory Coast aims to process 50 pct of its cocoa by 2020
* Foreign investment needed to boost processing
* Minister says has made changes to improve investment
By Ana Ionova
BERLIN, April 23 (Reuters) - Boosting cocoa processing in Ivory Coast is central to improving the sustainability of the country’s cocoa sector, the top grower’s trade minister Souleymane Diarrassouba said.
Increasing the volume of cocoa that is processed locally was a necessary step to help protect producing countries from volatility on the global market, Diarrassouba told a cocoa conference in Berlin on Monday.
A large global surplus of cocoa in the 2016/17 season (October/September) sparked a fall in New York futures in April last year to a more than nine-year low.
This prompted the Ivory Coast’s Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC) to cut the price it paid farmers for their cocoa to 700 CFA francs ($1.28) per kilogram from 1,100 CFA francs.
“Our government wants to establish a resilient and sustainable cocoa economy that can withstand price volatility and that generates a living income for the farmers, who are the weakest link of the chain,” Diarrassouba said.
Global chocolate makers have been buying more cocoa through schemes aimed at stamping out poverty, but benefits for farmers have been tempered by falling premiums under the biggest and most popular of these programmes.
Ivory Coast has set a goal of increasing local processing of its cocoa from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020, Diarrassouba told attendees.
The International Cocoa Organization has forecast that Ivory Coast cocoa grindings in the 2017/18 season (October/September) will rise by 23,000 tonnes to 600,000 tonnes.
The inter-governmental body put the Ivory Coast’s crop for the current season at 2 million tonnes, or about 43 percent of global production.
The government has also made efforts to improve the investment climate in Ivory Coast in a bid to attract the foreign investment it needs to boost processing, he added. ($1 = 547.6600 CFA francs) (Reporting by Ana Ionova, Editing by Nigel Hunt and Alexander Smith)