The Hunger Games – Cocoa farmers say this year’s harvest will be delayed

by Godwin Akanfe

Heavy rainfall and poor sunshine across Nigeria’s eastern cocoa-growing region of Cross Rivers over the past week will delay harvesting the new season’s crop by at least a month, the trade body and a farmer have announced.

Farmers in Nigeria, the world’s fourth-biggest cocoa grower, are growing increasingly worried about bean quality and black pod disease in the wake of heavier rains. Besides preventing mould, sunny weather is also needed for bigger bean size.

Cocoa trees need a delicate balance of rainy and dry weather. Too little rain and they wither; too much and they become susceptible to insects or fungal black pod disease. Beans can also go mouldy if small farmers are unable to dry them outside.Cocoa

“We have delayed harvest because of the weather … but from September we will start (to need) having sunlight to dry cocoa,” Neji Abang, a farmer in the Cross Rivers region, which produces annual volumes of around 60,000 tonnes, said by phone.

The main-crop harvest is meant to start at the end of August, Abang said, but farmers are worried about harvesting pods without enough sunshine to dry them and are leaving them on the trees.

Godwin Ukwu, a spokesman for the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, said some farmers had put off the harvest to September and that heavy rains had brought fungal black pod disease, because farmers were unable to spray their pods.

“Output will likely drop (this season) if the rains continue and blackpod disease intensifies,” Ukwu said, adding that he expected the rainfall to continue in August.

No official figures for the 2013/2014 cocoa output have been released. The International Cocoa Organization has estimated the 2013/14 crop at 250,000 tonnes.

Rainfall is spreading across Nigeria’s 14 cocoa-growing regions, Robo Adhuse, a commodity analyst said. Ondo State, Nigeria’s biggest grower, has had intermittent sunlight that is helping farmers dry the beans, but black pod is spreading, he added.

Abang said farmgate prices in Cross Rivers had fallen around 8 percent to 440,000 naira ($2,700) per tonne due to mould. Mould levels were as high as 18 percent, compared with the 3 percent that is considered acceptable, he said.

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