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JOHANNESBURG - Cameroon is taking steps to encourage farmers to grow better quality cocoa after a deterioration in last year’s crop resulted in lower prices for the country’s beans.

About 90%  of Cameroon’s cocoa exports in the season through July were classed as Grade 2, the second of three quality ratings for beans, according to Trade Minister Luc Magloire Atangana Mbarga.

That compared with 97% previously and meant that Cameroonian cocoa was about 200 CFA Francs ($0.37) per kilogram cheaper than international prices for the chocolate ingredient, he said.

Cameroon, the world’s fifth-largest cocoa producer, has distributed 1,800 new, modern dryers to farmers to help reduce the smoky smell and high moisture content that meant the country’s beans fetched lower prices last season, the minister said in an interview in Yaounde, the capital.

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The government has also announced incentives for growers that produce the best quality cocoa. Cameroon produced 231,642 metric tons of cocoa in the 12 months through July, 14 percent lower than a year earlier.

Unfavourable weather, lower bean prices and deteriorating road conditions contributed to the decline, as farmers turned to more profitable crops such as plantains and corn, said National Cocoa and Coffee Board Managing Director Michael Ndoping.

The government is hoping that a 50 percent cut in the cocoa export levy will result in better prices to farmers and encourage them to stick with the crop, the minister said.

The state is also setting up training facilities in the main growing hubs and will aim to instruct 4,000 farmers a year in growing techniques.

-BLOOMBERG