Pod-Eating Caterpillars Threaten Cocoa in No. 2 Grower Ghana

(Bloomberg) -- An outbreak of caterpillars is destroying Ghanaian cocoa crops at a crucial time of the season in the world’s No. 2 producer of the commodity.

The worms focus on new, developing pods and farmers in the affected area say they could have a devastating effect on the main crop, the larger of two annual harvests. The outbreak so far appears limited to the southwestern region, which accounts for about 55 percent of the nation’s cocoa production.

“These worms have attacked and destroyed tons of the little developing pods which would have been harvested between November this year and January next year,” said Samuel Quainoo, a chief farmer who supervises more than 15,000 growers in the Enchi district of the western region. “We are desperate and helpless because it’s spreading fast.”

Farmers in Ghana are preparing for the main-crop harvest, which starts in October and usually represents about two thirds of the country’s annual output. Ghana produces about 20 percent of the world’s cocoa beans, second only to neighboring Ivory Coast. Purchases from the nation’s farmers reached about 866,000 metric tons by Aug. 9, according to people familiar with the matter.

Growers including Quainoo have sprayed their crops with pesticides, but the worms reappear two weeks later, he said. Farmers are asking the government for stronger chemicals to eradicate the pests.

Pod-Eating Caterpillars Threaten Cocoa in No. 2 Grower Ghana

Matthew Kwaw, a farmer in Yakasi, near the border with top cocoa producer Ivory Coast, said he’s lost about 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of cocoa beans to the worms in the past two months. The pests are threatening “not only the cocoa output for next season, but also our livelihood as cocoa farmers,” he said.

The worms are a species called Anomis Leona, which are “vicious” feeders, said Noah Amenyah, a spokesman for the Ghana Cocoa Board, the industry regulator.

“Our surveillance unit will pick up these complaints and incorporate that into the free mass-spraying exercise which has started this month,” he said. “We will deal with it.” Amenyah said.

No Signs

In Ivory Coast, Bredou Koffi, the head of a cooperative in Abengourou, near the country’s eastern border with Ghana, said there’s no sign of a caterpillar invasion in the area. There’s no sign of an outbreak either further south in Noe, said farmer Vincent Akouah.

Other Ghanaian cocoa-growing regions, including Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo and the Eastern region, haven’t had any reports of the new pests either, according to chief farmers.

In the country’s west, farmers are meeting among themselves and with the government and cocoa regulator to try find a solution, said Nicholas Kobina, a chief farmer who supervises more than 200,000 growers in one of the region’s districts.

“The western region alone has more than three million cocoa farmers,” he said. “We are all panicking.”

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