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Ivory Coast upsets hit banana growers too

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It is not just the cocoa industry which has been disrupted by Ivory Coast's political turmoil, but banana operations too, Sipef revealed, as it revealed "severe" disruption to trade.

The instability fostered by the stand-off between Alassane Ouattara, who won Ivory Coast presidential elections in November, and Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to quit and was forced out earlier this month, had "disrupted" banana operations, Sipef said.

The plantation group's banana production fell 12.7% to 5,100 tonnes, while "both transport and export facilities were severely hampered, so that the fruits could not be delivered to our clients in Europe".

And Mr Gbagbo's overthrow as head of the world's top cocoa producer, if mid-ranked banana grower, had not yet brought a "normalisation of economic activities and export facilities".

"Hence the contribution of our banana activity will temporarily remain lower," Sipef said.

Sunshine levels halve

The setback was among a number that the Belgian-based group suffered in the January-to-March period, with wet weather in Indonesia depressing palm oil output at some plantations, although Papua New Guinea output notched up a 31% rise.

Indonesia tea production fell 17.0% to 625 tonnes "on a generalised lack of sunshine, that dropped to less than half of the average.

"This had a negative effect on the growth of green leaf."

A fall of 4.7% to 2,776 tonnes in rubber output was blamed on a timing issue at Papua New Guinea operations, which would prove only a temporary hiccup.

Prices rise

Nonetheless, with production set for a recovery later in the year - tea output is already "slowly coming back on track" - and prices set to remain firm, Sipef forecast an increase in profits this year.

The group has already sold 60% of its forecast palm oil production at $1,200 a tonne, including freight.

Tea prices ran, at $2,910 a tonne, 4.3% higher in the first three months of 2011 than a year before, also supported by industry production losses to dry weather in Kenya, the top exporter, and heavy rains in Sri Lanka.

Banana prices were, at $1,251 a tonne in Europe, up 23% year on year.

Sipef shares closed 2.1% higher at E70.98 in Brussels.


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