Mild Harmattan Means Ivory Coast Cocoa Crop May Eye Record

(Bloomberg) -- Cocoa growers in Ivory Coast are enjoying favorable weather at what can be a make-or-break time for the crop in the world’s top producer.

The Harmattan -- dry, dusty winds from the Sahara that blow from December to February -- has been mild and cocoa leaves are still green on the plantations, said Stephane Gonson, a grower in San Pedro, in the southwest. The weather is better than the same time a year ago, he said.

The good weather may put Ivory Coast on pace to rival its biggest cocoa crop yet, recorded in the 2016-17 annual season, which only just exceeded last year’s harvest. Farmers in the West African country are currently reaping the main crop, the larger of two cocoa harvests that runs from October to March.

Mild Harmattan Means Ivory Coast Cocoa Crop May Eye Record

Cocoa for March delivery dropped 0.2 percent at 1,668 pounds ($2,148) per ton in London on Monday, extending this year’s decline for the most active contract to 5.6 percent, after gaining 28 percent in 2018.

The data also point to a strong season. Ivory Coast farmers have sent an estimated 1.24 million tons of beans to the country’s ports since the season started, about 10 percent more than the same time last year, according to weekly data reported by Bloomberg. 31

Growers elsewhere in Ivory Coast also reported favorable weather. While there are indications that the harvest is slowing, cocoa trees remain in good shape.

“We harvested more cocoa beans than the same time last year,” said Thierry Aboa, a farmer in Sikensi, in the south. “There are still pods on the trees, the leaves have not dried yet.”

In the center-west, it hasn’t rained since December and the Harmattan was stronger during the Dec. 22 to Jan. 5 period, said Ali Sanogo, a grower in Daloa. Farmers will start to worry if they don’t get rain before the end of this month, but for now cocoa leaves remain green and there are some small pods on the trees.

While an El-Nino formation is in place and usually brings stronger-than-usual Harmattan conditions, it appears to be weak this year and has less power to impact the weather, Giacomo Masato, a meteorologist at Marex Spectron, said by phone.

“We’re not predicting extremes in either way, not too strong and not too weak,” said Masato. “If you don’t have any specific extremes in Harmattan conditions, this won’t affect the crops.”

Mild Harmattan Means Ivory Coast Cocoa Crop May Eye Record

Still, while the weather has been good so far, the weekly cocoa arrivals have slowed in recent weeks, said Carlos Mera, an analyst at Rabobank International.

In neighboring Ghana, the No. 2 producer, cocoa trees are beginning to show stress from dryness, said Joseph Essuman Acquah, who farms in Yakasi on Ghana’s southwestern border with Ivory Coast.

“We need the rains to help developing pods on the trees to grow well for the mid-crop harvest,” he said.

In Other African Producers
  • Farmers waiting for dry-season rain to boost the mid-crop, said Emmanuel Nguile, a farmer in Ngoro, near Bafia. 
  • Growers with smaller farms are pruning, while those with big plantations continue with the harvest; some farmers who did not clear their farms during the rainy season are doing so now.
  • Farmers in the southeast are optimistic about a good mid-crop, said Emajore Mapair, a grower in Kurumi. 
  • “The trees are full of fresh flowers as well as small buds,” he said.
  • Farmers in the southwest are complaining about hot weather at the moment, said Joseph Ayodele, the coordinator of a cocoa farmers group in Ekiti state.
  • “There has been no rainfall in the last three months, not even for one day” and trees are showing signs of stress, he said.

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