Ivory Coast Cocoa Crop May Avoid Damage on Late Sahara Winds

The cocoa crop in top producer Ivory Coast may avoid damage from dryness this year as the Harmattan winds, which blow from the Sahara desert, arrived later than usual, helping soil to retain moisture from rains.

The winds started reaching cocoa areas from mid-December, instead of the first 10 days of the month, said Antoine Kouassi Koffi, of the National Meteorological Service. Rainfall in the central-western Daloa region, which produces 300,000 metric tons of cocoa a year, was 83 percent more in December’s last 10 days than the long-term average, the service’s data showed. In the southwestern Soubre region, which produces a similar amount, the towns of San Pedro and Tabou also got above-average rainfall.

The West African nation’s cocoa output will be 1.5 million tons in 2012-13, compared with 1.476 million tons a year earlier, according to an estimate by Keith Flury, a senior commodities analyst at Rabobank International in London. Farmers started harvesting the main crop for the 2012-13 season in October and will continue until March. A smaller harvest, known as the mid crop, will be collected from April to September. Cocoa climbed 8.6 percent in New York last January on speculation the Harmattan winds would damage the crop.

“Because rainfall was quite good until at least late December, it is difficult to think that the Harmattan will create problems for the 2012-13 crop,” Steven Haws, founder of Commodities Risk Analysis in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who has followed cocoa since 1979, said yesterday by e-mail. “Good soil moisture and low temperatures will blunt the effects of any Harmattan winds.”

Cool Nights

The Harmattan have been moderate so far and usually ease as they reach the southern part of Ivory Coast, Koffi, an agro-meteorology engineer at the weather service, said yesterday by phone from the commercial capital, Abidjan. The winds are reaching cocoa-growing areas of the southwest and southeast during the day and the nights have been cool, with dense fog, he said. Cocoa production in Ivory Coast is unlikely to be hurt if the Harmattan stay as they are at the moment, he said.

Coastal areas of Ivory Coast will get 5 to 10 millimeters (0.2 to 0.4 inches) of rain through Jan. 18, according to data on the website of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration yesterday.

“The rains have been a little bit slow in leaving the coastal areas,” said Drew Lerner, president of Overland Park, Kansas-based World Weather Inc. “The whole evolution of weather patterns there has been slower. Normally, we shouldn’t even see the showers on the coast that we saw at the end of December.”

The winds, which blew at moderate strength last week, are set to weaken again this week, said Kevin Marcus, founder of weather consulting company Marcus Weather in Passaic, New Jersey. “Slightly stronger” winds in February may result in damage to mid crops, he said.

“Given the rainfall patterns during October, November and December last year, it is unlikely that the Harmattan will impact negatively on the remainder of the main crop,” said Jonathan Parkman, co-head of agriculture at brokerage Marex Spectron Group in London. “However, the potential impact upon the mid crop is much greater and should be closely monitored during the coming weeks.”

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