Ghana's Cocoa Harvest Set for Slow Start as Dryness Hurts Crops

Local farmers gather dried cocoa beans to be weighed before selling them to merchants in a village outside of Kumasi, Ghana.

Local farmers gather dried cocoa beans to be weighed before selling them to merchants in a village outside of Kumasi, Ghana.

Photographer: Jane Hahn/Bloomberg
  • Harvesting in world's second-largest producer to peak later
  • Wet season needed for pod development was delayed by a month

Cocoa harvesting in Ghana, the world’s second-largest producer, is set for a slow start as rains returned a month later than usual, hindering development of the pods containing the chocolate beans.

The wet season, needed for the crop to develop, began this month instead of September, Charles York, principal meteorologist at the Ghana Meteorological Agency, said in an interview on Monday. Rainfall in Ghana was almost 70 percent below normal levels in the 90 days to Oct. 15, according to Speedwell Weather.

Cocoa futures traded in New York have risen 11 percent this year as Ghana’s harvest fell short of a government forecast last season and dry weather brought by the El Nino weather pattern threatened crops from Ecuador to Indonesia. As rains return, farmers in Ghana may have to wait longer for the crop to develop.

“The trees are bereft of pods,” Johnson Mensah, 61, a farmer in Enchi, a town in the region that produces 55 percent of Ghana’s cocoa, said by phone on Monday. "The rains started about two weeks ago and we expect new pods will develop. We have to wait."

Olam Forecast

Cocoa production may be less than forecast as the driest third quarter in 35 years hurts the crop, according to Olam International Ltd., the world’s third-largest processor. The harvest may fall short of Olam’s forecast for 750,000 metric tons if dry weather means the smaller of two annual harvests declines from last season’s level, Amit Suri, chief operating officer of the company’s cocoa unit, said in an interview Oct. 21.

Rainfall in the first half of October has on average been more than the combined totals for August and September, according to Speedwell. MDA Weather Services expects the rain in the past few weeks to continue. The Accra-based Ghana Meteorological Agency sees normal rainfall for cocoa growing areas for the rest of the year, York said.

Cocoa futures for December delivery rose 0.6 percent to $3,225 a ton on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange by 10:58 a.m. in New York. The beans are the biggest gainer in the Standard & Poor’s GSCI index of 24 raw materials this year, followed by silver, cotton and sugar. All other commodities from gold to gasoline and crude oil have recorded losses.

Cocoa output in Ghana will be 803,000 tons, according to the mean in a Bloomberg survey of 12 traders, brokers, analysts and processors published Sept. 23. Views ranged from as low as 700,000 to 850,000 tons. Output last season was 735,000 tons, according to the London-based International Cocoa Organization. Farmers will harvest 850,000 tons to 900,000 tons this year, the Cocoa Board, the industry regulator, said this month.

Hope and Pray

"My harvest is 40 percent below what I got by the same time last year," said Samuel Quainoo, a 54-year old farmer who grows cocoa in 124 acres in the western part of the country. "The rains failed us. I am at risk of not being able to meet my financial obligations."

Ghana’s cocoa harvest will peak later than the usual November and December as delayed rainfall and prolonged sunshine scorch flowering pods on the trees, Mensah said.

"Farmers really hope and pray that the rains will continue for the rest of October through December so new pods can develop well to help recoup something and save the season,” the farmer said.

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