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The International Cocoa Organization has seen a lot of change internally in recent years, but little change in the cocoa value chain. Its new Executive Director says the time has come to act

Michel Arrion, the International Cocoa Organization’s new Executive Director, has spent much of his career in West and Central Africa, having been European Union (EU) Ambassador to Nigeria, Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire. He retired from working for the EU, after 31 years, prior to his appointment as Executive Director. Earlier in his career has also gained experience of working with the confectionery sector, so he brings to his new role an understanding of life in producing countries and the industry as a whole.

In his first major interview, Mr Arrion told C&CI he would like to make the ICCO more relevant in global discussion of the cocoa market and commodity markets as a whole, a sector he characterised as being dominated by a relatively small number of well-known players – both in producing countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and consuming countries, where a relatively small number of processors and manufacturers dominate the trade.

Almost all of the issues where change needs to occur are sustainability issues of one sort or another, but he highlights the cocoa price as the most important, because of its effect on the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.

“The price affects everyone in the supply chain,” he told C&CI. “Chocolate manufacturers, processors and traders are all affected, but all make a good income out of being in the value chain. None of them are as directly affected by the price of cocoa as farmers who, for the most part, exist below the poverty line. A bar of chocolate is affordable, it’s not expensive, the other parties do well out of the supply chain. Farmers do not, so their income has to top the ICCO’s list of priorities.”

Diversification part of a living income

However, Mr Arrion doesn’t see a higher price for cocoa as the only way to improve cocoa farmers’ incomes. It is a part of it, but diversification, making sure farmers are not wholly dependent on the cocoa price is also important. When we look at a farmers’ overall income, we also need to look at opportunities to increase households income too, he said.

The ICCO’s work has been guided in the last several years by the Cocoa Agenda adopted in 2012, at the first World Cocoa Conference (WCC), although it is fair to say that seven years on, the cocoa sector as a whole has not succeeded in addressing the many issues highlighted in the agenda, most of which have been reiterated several times at subsequent editions of the WCC.

Mr Arrion agreed that, despite the agenda and subsequent declarations, that so little has been achieved is demoralising and he therefore wants to take steps to bring about real change in the value chain in the cocoa sector.

Five-year plan in preparation

At the time that C&CI spoke to Mr Arrion he was busy working on a five-year plan for the ICCO, a plan that was originally due to have been updated 2017, as set out in the ICA 2012. That it was not is partly due to the long drawn out nature of the move of the organisation to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s capital, and the need to appoint a new Executive Director to replace Dr Jean-Marc Anga, an Ivorian national who stepped down late last year. “Producing a five-year strategic plan is a legal obligation for the ICCO,” he told C&CI.

It may have been delayed, and that delay may, some say, have resulted in a certain amount of ‘drift’ in the ICCO’s remit, but production of the new plan fits well with Mr Arrion’s five-year term in office. He expects to be able to share a draft of the five-year plan at the next Council meeting of the ICCO in April 2019. “I want to be pragmatic and identify what our strategic objectives are and how we will go about achieving them,” he said.

Mr Arrion had been installed in his new role in Abidjan for just three weeks when he spoke to C&CI but definitely seems to have hit the ground running. As has also been the case at another UN commodity body, the International Coffee Organization (ICO), statistics and data have long been an issue for the ICCO. Steps are being taken to address this by the ICO, and Mr Arrion is keen to do likewise at the ICCO.■ C&CI

This extract is from an article that first appeared in the March’19 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read the article in full and other informative articles in the current and future issues of C&CI.

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