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Ivory Coast Cocoa Farmers Say Drought May Curb Mid Crop

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Farmers in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, said they are concerned a drought that started in early January is lasting too long and may damage the next harvest, which starts in April.

“It hasn’t rained in the past two months and the plantations are getting dry,” Anoh Kouao, who farms 16 hectares (39 acres) in Niable, near the border with Ghana, said by phone on Feb. 20.

Ivory Coast, which accounts for 34 percent of the global cocoa output, needs adequate rain and sunshine to develop pods, while the lack of rain may prevent the flowers from growing. Farmers reap a main crop from October to March, while a smaller harvest, called the mid crop, is produced from April to the end of September.

“If it doesn’t rain before the end of the month or early next month, there may be bad consequences for the next harvest,” Antoine Kouassi Koffi, an agro-meteorology engineer at the National Meteorological Service, said by phone on Feb. 20. “Dry weather is normal for the season, but there are usually some small rains here and there. This was barely the case this year.”

Weak Harmattan

Ivorian farmers will harvest 1.42 million metric tons of cocoa in the 2012-13 season, according to the mean in a survey last month of 13 analysts, brokers and traders. That’s 3.8 percent lower than output last year, data from the London-based International Cocoa Organization showed.

Cocoa for March delivery gained a third day, rising 0.4 percent to 1,425 pounds ($2,180) a metric ton by 12:48 p.m. on the NYSE Liffe market in London.

No rain has been recorded in the eastern towns of Bondoukou and Dimbokro since the beginning of January, according to the figures from the Abidjan-based weather agency.

“Some leaves have drought on the trees and some young fruits have started to turn yellow,” said Jean Kanga, who owns a eight-hectare farm in the eastern town Ania, near Dimbokro.

The dry season, which started in November, usually ends in February in the south and in March in the central regions. The harmattan winds, which blow from the Sahara desert to the south of West Africa in December and January, were weak this year and ended without damaging the crop.

‘Reassuring’ Rain

In the western part of Ivory Coast, the country’s biggest growing region, rain has been rare in 2013, according to farmers.

“It rained a few days ago for the first time in weeks. This is reassuring,” said Salif Sangare, who farms a 15-hectare cocoa plantation in the central-west town of Duekoue. “We hope the rain will fall again soon as we were starting to feel a bit worried for the next harvest.”

Rainfall amounted 14.8 millimeters (0.6 inch) from Feb. 11 to Feb. 20 in Gagnoa, according to the meteorological service’s data. Rain was more abundant in the coastal regions, including the port city of San Pedro, which got 26.9 millimeters in the period.

To contact the reporters on this story: Olivier Monnier in Abidjan at omonnier@bloomberg.net; Baudelaire Mieu in Abidjan at bmieu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Emily Bowers at ebowers1@bloomberg.net

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