The Ivory Coast government is planning to expel thousands of illegal cocoa farmers from parks and reserves in a bid to save the country's forests. But as Ivor Bennet reports, it's feared the evictions may cause a fall in cocoa production and possibly drive up the price of chocolate.
Mount Peko National Park. Its lush forest used to stretch for 34,000 hectares. Now, just one percent remains. The rest - all dead. The Ivory Coast government blames illegal cocoa farming, and is launching a campaign to stamp it out. (SOUNDBITE) (French) KPOLO OUATTARA, MONTPEKO AGENT, OFFICE OF PARKS AND RESERVES (OIPR) SAYING: "With the post-election crisis, people infiltrated the forests and destroyed everything, both plant life and wildlife. The animals have virtually all disappeared." It's estimated there are 28,000 people farming illegally in Mount Peeko. Cutting down forest for new plantations in a never-ending cycle. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SORY BOURAHIMA, FARMER SAYING: "We invested so much here for so many years. Our children grew up here. If they chase us away, we will suffer and it worries us a lot." And it won't just be them who suffer. Ivory Coast produced a record 1.74 million tonnes of cocoa last year, accounting for over 40 percent of the world's supply. A global leader of mammoth proportions, a cut in production would see prices soar, of both cocoa and chocolate. For how long? well that depends. (SOUNDBITE) (French) KPOLO OUATTARA, MONTPEKO AGENT, OFFICE OF PARKS AND RESERVES (OIPR) SAYING: "We have high hopes because as foresters, we know that although much has been destroyed, there are still small areas that must be preserved so that vegetation can return to how it was." Ivory Coast has tried this before in 2013. But was accused of human rights abuses after destroying thousands of homes. This time, authorities say residents will be offered resettlement packages. But many here say they still don't know how much help they'll get.