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Chocolate factory opens in cocoa king Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, inaugurated its first industrial-scale chocolate factory on Monday, May 18, aiming to stimulate and support growing local consumption of the sweet treat.

Although the West African country has made cocoa its economic engine since it became independent from France in 1960, chocolate has not traditionally been part of national diets.

"We wanted to be able to... make chocolate for Ivorians, for Africans and especially West Africans," said President Alassane Ouattara, after a tour of the new facilities in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast, which produces more than 35% of global cocoa harvests and saw a record production of more than 1.7 million tonnes in 2014, wants to establish itself in other more lucrative sectors of the industry.

With an investment of 6 million euros ($6.7 million) for a production capacity of 10,000 tonnes per year, the new factory will produce chocolate "made in Ivory Coast" for the first time on an industrial scale.

"The arrival of a new chocolate factory in the world's largest cocoa producer... will also allow Ivorian planters to finally access the pleasure of chocolate", said Patrick Poirrier, chief executive officer of French chocolate company Cemoi, which owns the plant.

Cocoa, the "brown gold" for Ivory Coast, accounts for 22% of the country's gross domestic product, more than half of its exports and two-thirds of people's jobs and incomes, according to the World Bank.

Trade Minister Jean-Louis Billon said Ivory Coast citizens today had "more and more access to a product which is local product, which is sold worldwide, but which used to be forbidden."

During the 2013-14 season, Ivorian cocoa producers saw profits of 2.13 billion euros ($2.3 billion), according to Ivory Coast's coffee-cocoa council, while worldwide cocoa reaped some $13 billion in profits.

But those figures were dwarfed by the world's chocolate earnings, which were nearly 10 times greater that season, according to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO).

Billon said earlier this year that the country was "interested in exporting finished and semi-finished products".

Ivory Coast is set become the leader in cocoa bean processing, according to the ICCO. – Rappler.com