Cocoa Farming vs. Chimpanzees In Ivory Coast

In Ivory Coast, the world's biggest source of cocoa beans, illegal cultivation has spread into Mont Péko National Park, threatening both wildlife and the well-being of children.

Cocoa Farming vs. Chimpanzees In Ivory Coast
Maureen Grisot

DUÉKOUÉ — Hamidou Ouedraogo doesn’t need his machete anymore to get through the Mont Péko National Park, in the Ivory Coast town of Duékoué. Where trees over 40 meters tall used to stand, there are now only burnt out remains.

“Cocoa doesn’t like trees, so we burned them," says the Burkinabé planter, seemingly apologetic as he assures us that he’d only heard a few months ago he was exploiting a protected area.

For more than 10 years, an armed group reigned over this forest, shooting strangers who attempted to enter. Not only did their leader, Amadé Ouérémi, sell thousands of hectares to farmers from neighboring Burkina Faso, but also amassed riches trafficking gold, wood and even ivory.

This chaos was made possible by the 2002 political and military crisis, when Ivory Coast was split into two. Mont Péko National Park was inside the UN-controlled area known as the “confidence zone.” No armed men could enter it, not even the officers who were supposed to protect the park.

Ouérémi was finally arrested in May 2013 when Ivory Coast authorities were finally able to enter the zone and assess the damage. According to a census carried out by the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Authority (ADDR), 24,000 people had settled on camps across the park’s 28,000 hectares.

Half of them are children who work on the plantations. Some work in their parents’ fields, and others are said to be orphans rounded up from the streets of Burkina Faso and made to work like slaves.

Not just an environmental issue

The illegal farming in Mont Péko is both a human and ecological tragedy that the government is officially trying to end. “The ADDR asked us to leave, but we’re so invested here,’ asks Hamidou. “Where can we go? Some farmers have three wives, six children. Even if they left the camps to go to the villages on the periphery, they’d have to keep cultivating cacao in the park to survive.”

This situation is an outrage for the region’s natives. When the Mont Péko park was created in 1968, those who used to cultivate land in the areas now protected became displaced, sometimes violently. Now, seven months after Ouérémi's arrest, they are angry at the government’s lack of authority. And although officials from the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves did set some camps on fire, the villagers say that the planters returned quickly.

“The Burkinabé are in process of building a road in the middle of the park so it’s easier for them to move their cocoa out,” says a frustrated Obin Goulia Ata. “If their produce was seized, it would stop, but corruption prevents everything.”

Ata founded an organization called Codeparc to protect Mont Péko, and he dreams of the day when the planters will finally leave. “In 2002, we could still see elephants and chimpanzees,” he remembers. “It’s by creating projects around the animals that people will be able to earn money other than growing illegal cocoa crops.”

Controlling cocoa flow

According to a 2012 study commissioned by the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves, 70% of the park has been destroyed since 2001 to make way for perennial crops — essentially cocoa. These illegal fields are thought to represent 1.4% of the annual production of the crop in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer in 2013, and they fuel a vast network of corruption.

Though trucks driving out of the park are stopped at police and military roadblocks, they are more like toll booths than checkpoints. Extortion is institutionalized: When cooperatives arrive in the main towns, the beans are mixed into the produce whose origin is supposedly controlled.

Colonel Adama Tondossama, head of the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves, admits that it will be difficult to end this profitable traffic: “We’ll need three, four years to get these areas back. We’ll first try to get rid of the crops so that the corruption system falls on itself. Then the forest will regenerate naturally, like it did in Taï National Park.”

That park, much bigger and better protected than Mont Péko, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has managed to recover and recreate most of the areas that had been invaded on its periphery. These days, scientists from all over the world come there to observe the chimpanzees.

Taï is a model, and a ray of hope for the residents back at Mont Péko.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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