Ivory Coast resumed cocoa bean exports on Sunday more than three months after they were halted by the country's political conflict, officials and a Reuters witness said.
Workers were loading beans onto a ship owned by Bollore Africa Logistics from a warehouse brimming with cocoa sacks.
"This is the first boat. It arrived on May 7 and this morning we started operations," said Kouame Kouassi, a Bollore official. "We have 1,796 tonnes (on this boat) and there's another boat coming at a later date to load 9,000 tonnes."
Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer, providing a third of the supply internationally.
Nearly half a million tonnes of cocoa were held up at the West African country's Atlantic seaports by a conflict which lasted more than four months.
Bollore shipping agent Seydou Traore said the ship would head to San Pedro on Monday to pick up 7,500 tonnes of cocoa after it had finished loading the 1,796 tonnes at Abidjan.
Another ship would come on May 10 to load 8,000 tonnes at San Pedro, he said.
"There is a large number of boats expected to come here and there are further contracts being finalized for other exports," Mr. Traore told Reuters, as a crane loaded several sacks of cocoa beans aboard the ship.
The violence only eased this month with the arrest of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to step down after November election results showing he had lost.
Last week exporters resolved a row with the new government of President Alassane Ouattara over how to make customs payments, paving the way for exports to resume.
On Friday, acting agriculture minister Gnamien Konan said a production forecast for 1.3 million tonnes of cocoa this season remained in place despite the crisis.
The conflict killed thousands of people and displaced more than a million, but Mr. Konan said it probably had little impact on the amount of cocoa grown by farmers because much of the fighting had been in urban areas.
In total, at least four ships were expected in the next few days to help ease the export backlog, said Captain Idrissa Dosso, head of the operations department at Abidjan port that lies on the southern end of the main city's sprawling lagoon.
"Infrastructure was not affected (by the war) so the port is very operational," Capt. Dosso said. "The logistics and men are there, so we have the capacity to receive these vessels."
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