In Ivory Coast, fear over the cocoa harvest after too heavy rains

“In the thirty years that I have been in cocoa, this is the worst season

In Ivory Coast, fear over the cocoa harvest after too heavy rains

“In the thirty years that I have been in cocoa, this is the worst season. » In the south of the Ivory Coast, Siaka Sylla gazes in disappointment at the warehouse of her almost empty cooperative: after exceptionally heavy rains, the harvest from the world's leading producer looks very poor.

On this hot November morning, rare trucks arrive from the plantations to drop off a few dozen bags of cocoa beans at the Scapen cooperative, in the village of Hermankono, near Divo. “It’s rained too much this year! Usually at this time, trucks are queuing to unload! There, we barely have 200 bags when we can store ten times more,” laments Mr. Sylla, president of the cooperative which brings together nearly 1,500 planters. He expects a harvest three to four times smaller than in 2022.

In the cocoa fields, the observation is verified. At the edge of a track where only motorbikes can pass through, Bamoussa Coulibaly harvests a few rare yellow-red pods from the numerous cocoa trees.

This year, the month of July was particularly rainy in the south of Côte d'Ivoire, right at the time of cocoa flowering and "the flowers fell", explains this agricultural worker to justify his meager harvest. And among the pods that resisted, some rotted, again, because of the excessive humidity.

Increase in rainfall by 20-40%

In some areas, rainfall recorded since the start of the year has been 20 to 40% higher than the average from 1991 to 2020, according to figures from the Ivorian meteorological agency Sodexam. However, cocoa needs a subtle alternation between sunshine and precipitation to fully flourish.

A few kilometers from Hermanokono, in the bush near N'Douci, Monique Koffi Amenan wades in a marshy field, a remnant of the unusual precipitation which caused the neighboring river to overflow for several weeks. “This year, what we harvested won’t even fill one bag, instead of two bags normally. The rain made the cocoa rot,” explains this forty-year-old who has been farming this field with her husband for ten years.

“We had predicted a 20% drop compared to last year and our forecasts are confirmed. With the heavy rains, many pods have rotted,” Yves Brahima Koné, head of the Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC), the regulatory body for the sector in the country, confirmed to AFP.

Leading producer, Ivory Coast supplies around 40% of the world's cocoa. From July, anticipating a bad year, it suspended the sale of export contracts. Result: cocoa prices are breaking records on the financial markets. In London, a tonne of cocoa peaked on November 10 at 3,478 pounds sterling (nearly 4,000 euros), a record since 1989, while in New York, it exceeded the $4,000 mark, the highest since end of 1978, or forty-five years.

Concern from producers

After the rains, the situation could remain critical, since the resurgence of the El Nino climatic phenomenon raises fears of prolonged periods of drought in West Africa. “This is proof that climate change is hitting developing countries more,” asserts Ivorian economist Séraphin Prao.

But while waiting for a possible repeat of the phenomenon next season, producers are worried about their finances in the short term. In Ivory Coast, the farm gate purchase price of cocoa is set by the government. At 1,000 CFA francs per kilo (1.5 euros), it is higher this year than in recent seasons, but the low volumes will cause a shortfall for many families.

According to the World Bank, cocoa provides income for a fifth of the Ivorian population. “My children go to school, I have one who is entering 6th grade and another who is taking the BTS. But if cocoa doesn’t produce, what are we going to do? », Alarms Monique Koffi Amenan.

“In a liberalized system, farmers would benefit in the current context, because cocoa is reaching record levels. In Cameroon for example, where the price is not set by the State, a kilo of cocoa sells for twice as much,” underlines Séraphin Prao.

Back at the Hermankono cooperative, Siaka Sylla still wants to believe that the intermediate harvest, which takes place in April, will be better. “But that won’t make up for the shortfall,” he sighs.