Weeks of cool temperatures and overcast skies across most of Ivory Coast’s main cocoa regions have darkened the outlook for the forthcoming main crop, farmers and analysts said on Monday.
The main crop in the world’s top cocoa grower officially opens on October 1.
The 2011/2012 cocoa season is expected to fall well short of the previous year’s record harvest due to poor rainfall.
While regular showers since the rainy season began in April have aided pod development, those gains are now at risk, farmers say, due to disease and damage linked to an extended spell of unseasonally cool weather that was still persisting last week.
Upland, farmers said trees were producing a mix of pods of all sizes and they expected harvesting to start timidly at the end of this month then pick up gradually in October and November.
They added, however, that they were increasingly concerned that the weeks of cloudy weather and cool temperature were causing the fungal black pod disease to spread.
In the western region of Soubre, in the heart of the cocoa belt, no rain was reported in the last week compared with 12 millimetres the previous week.
“We have lots of pods on the tree. We haven’t had any rain and it’s been very cool. The cocoa trees don’t like that,” said Lazere Ake, who farms on the outskirts of Soubre.
In the southeastern region of Aboisso, an analyst reported no rain, compared with 1.5 mm the previous week. Farmers said black pod disease was spreading on plantations due to cool temperatures.
“It’s the cool temperature that are a problem. We saw black pod arrive last week. It’s not yet catastrophic. If the sun comes out, the disease will stop and there will be lots of cocoa for the main crop,” said Etienne Yao, who farms near Aboisso.
In the western region of Gagnoa, farmers said they were suffering from the cool temperature and the lack of sun just as pods were beginning to ripen.
“The weather is not good. We’re worried. The weather has caused lots of flowers to dry and black pod is attacking the pods,” said local farmer and cooperative manager Francois Badiel.
“There are lots of big ripe pods on the trees. In a week or two, some farmers will start harvesting. But it will be small in the beginning,” he said.
In the western region of Daloa, which produces about a quarter of Ivory Coast’s national output, farmers also complained of poor weather, but said conditions in the second half of this month would determine whether the main crop succeeds or falls flat.
“We had two light showers. And it’s remained overcast,” said Laurent Kouakou, who farms near Daloa.
“For now there hasn’t been much damage on the plantations. We’ll have to wait for the next two weeks to have a better idea of the main crop. I, for one, think that from September we’ll have cocoa and there will be an abundant harvest,” he said.
In the eastern region of Abengourou, one analyst said no rain was reported for the second week in a row.
“It’s the status quo. The pods are struggling with the cool temperatures. Only some hot weather can help the development conditions,” said local farmer Denis Kablan.