How has the corona pandemic affected the project?
Judith Steffens: For PRO-PLANTEURS, the current situation means a massive restriction of our activities. We have received clear feedback from the cooperatives that there is currently a great fear of infection during training. Our strategy is therefore conservative, also in order to protect our employees and those of our partners.
Some of our partners, such as the Conseil du Café-Cacao and our implementation partners, are currently working from home.
How did your team cope with the situation so far? And what are the most important activities once the restrictions are lifted?
The domestic employees have been equipped with face masks and disinfectants. The exchange among each other and with the partners takes place in the best possible way via all available electronic channels. We are currently in contact with our partners and are trying to find flexible and responsible solutions, for example for the last training of the cooperatives and coaching.
We are in contact with all partners in order to continue the activities in the field - as soon as it is possible again. The coordination for the preparations of the second phase of the project continues, although at a slower pace.
How are farmers currently supported?
Disinfectants, face masks and possibly seeds will soon be procured via the Green Innovation Centre, which can then also be distributed to the cooperatives. For this purpose, we are in exchange with the Green Innovation Centre. We will have to plan and control the further procedure, adapted to the current possibilities.
GISCO members also support the cooperatives with equipment to ensure compliance with hygiene measures. All this helps.
How do you assess the impact on the situation of farmers?
The farmers of PRO-PLANTEURS are very afraid of infection. Since 98 percent of the cases occurred in Abidjan, the main fear is that travel from Abidjan to the national territory will carry the corona virus into the communities. This is one of the reasons why the willingness to hold meetings is currently very low. Some are even withdrawing from their communities and living temporarily in isolation in their fields, the "campements". In addition, the willingness to visit the local health centers for other diseases has decreased. One cooperative told us that there have already been deaths as a result.
In some regions, for example, prices for plantains or rice have more than doubled. The cooperatives near the border report that the local markets are less well supplied with food that is normally imported from Ghana, such as rice, tomatoes and chilies.
Are there effects on the cocoa commercialization?
The delivery of the cocoa can largely be handled. However, transport costs have risen, and the administrative procedures in Abidjan make delivery even more difficult. Some cooperatives report lower commercialized quantities. This is due to the fact that production was partly reduced by dry periods and also because the producers did not deliver in order to avoid any contact. However, these can be localized effects. We are still awaiting the production data from all cooperatives. Then we will have a more precise assessment.
More information on what cocoa farmers are currently facing you will read on the website of the French agricultural research and development institution CIRAD here.