"The industry is deeply concerned about Ebola,” said Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), at a press briefing yesterday ahead of the WCF’s 26th partnership meeting.
"We also have a member company in Liberia and as a result we had a small project there that had to close down."
The WCF set up an Ebola relief fund last week and has so far raised $680,000 from its members that will be donated to either the Red Cross or Caritas to support care and prevention efforts in West Africa.
West African teams operating as usual
But Mars and Mondelēz representatives said at the press briefing that local teams in West Africa – mainly in the unaffected countries of Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana - were operating as usual.
"We are deeply concerned on the impact on farmers - it's very much a humanitarian concern,” said Barry Parkin, chief sustainability officer at Mars and chairman of the WCF.
He refused to speculate on Ebola’s impact on cocoa pricing or whether recent price hikes were related to the potential threat from Ebola.
Hershey CEO John P Bilbrey recently said in an interview with CNBC that his company would not raise its wholesale prices any further this year in response to Ebola because most of Hershey’s 2015 cocoa demands were already purchased and were in its US factories awaiting processing.
No transmission risk from cocoa
Which companies have contributed to WCF Ebola relief fund?
Transmar Group; ADM; Blommer Chocolate Company; Carletti; Chocolove; Cococo Chocolatiers Inc.; Confiseur Laederach Group; Ghirardelli Chocolate; Guittard Chocolate; Fazer; Indcresa; Manufacturing Confectioner; Mars Incorporated; Mitsubishi; Mondelēz International Foundation; Nestlé; Noble Resources; Olam; Purdy’s Chocolatier; Sucres et Denrées; The Hershey Company; Toms Group; and World’s Finest Chocolate
Parkin said: "We need to reassure consumers that there's no risk. The scientific view is that there is no risk to food products."
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Ebola can only be transmitted via human contact with infected blood, bodily fluids, or animals, but not through agricultural materials found in food products.
To date, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have been worst affected by Ebola. These nations account for a very small proportion of global cocoa production, which is concentrated in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire.
Cocoa: A resilient crop
The WCF’s Bill Guyton said that the industry could help to inform people in cocoa growing communities on Ebola prevention since it already had a network in place to educate in rural communities. "I think the best way to combat it is education,” he said.
Parkin said he was confident that even if Ebola made it to a major cocoa producing nation, the crop could withstand major disruption after having survived other major setbacks such as civil war in Cote D’Ivoire. “Cocoa is very resilient. It’s a tree crop and will continue to grow.”