Rubber ‘gold rush’ sweeps African cocoa fields

CANTONDOUGOU, May 5, 2009 (AFP) – The comforting world of chocolate ads could not be further from the harsh reality in the backwoods of the world’s biggest cocoa producer — where rubber is the new crop of choice.

In the village of Cantondougou in western Ivory Coast there are no steaming mugs of hot chocolate or silky seductresses biting into chocolate bars.

Instead there are mud huts with drinking water or electricity.

Cocoa — long a lifeline for this African nation — is leaving a bitter taste now among thousands of farmers who have watched commodity prices plummet in recent months and seen little benefit from decades of hard work.

“Cocoa does not allow you to live well,” said Enoch Youlepadante, 29, pointing to a dirty stream where women wash clothes, the only source of drinking water for this village of 6,000 people perched on a hillside.

Hamed Ollo Kambou, 30, a local cocoa grower, said: “How can we produce the wealth of this country and not profit from it?”

Hamed recently bought himself a battery-powered radio: “It’s our only consolation,” he said.

Disgruntled cocoa and coffee farmers in Ivory Coast are now turning to the cultivation of natural rubber — seen as a far mo