Nigeria’s Mid-Crop Cocoa Threatened by Prolonged Dry Winds

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Nigeria’s mid-crop cocoa output is threatened by dry winds from the Sahara Desert that have evaporated moisture and caused buds to break off trees, a farmers’ group said.

The winds, known as the Harmattan, that blow south from the desert intermittently from December to March have persisted for one month unbroken by rainfall, increasing the adverse effects on cocoa trees, according to Taiwo William, national coordinator of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria. The buds that break off would have formed cocoa pods.

“The very cold and dusty winds have stunted the growth and healthy development of cocoa buds on the trees,” William said in a telephone interview yesterday from the southwestern city of Abeokuta. “By now we should be seeing at least between 12 and 15 buds on each tree, rather we are seeing just an average of 6 buds.”

Nigeria, the world’s fourth-largest producer of the chocolate ingredient behind Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia, set a target to produce at least 500,000 tons of cocoa by the end of the season running through September 2015 as more trees got to an age where they produce the beans . The West African nation produced 350,000 tons of cocoa in the 2013-2014 season, according to the Agriculture Ministry. The International Cocoa Organization assessed Nigeria’s production for that season at 240,000 tons.

‘Severest Intensity’

The last rains in the southwest belt that accounts for about 70 percent of Nigeria’s production were recorded in November, Ayodele Adegoke, a cocoa farmer based in the southwestern town of Ado Ekiti, said yesterday by phone.

“If there had been one or two rainfalls during the period, the story would’ve been different,” he said.

The dry winds from the Sahara manifest the “severest intensity” in January and begin to weaken afterward, John Chigbu, manager at the Meteorological Office in the commercial capital, Lagos, said in an interview in his office.

While the winds last, they aid rapid depletion of moisture, causing young cocoa seedlings to die, Layi Olubamiwa, a researcher at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, in southwestern Ibadan, said yesterday in a phone interview. For the surviving trees, the quality of yield declines, resulting in cocoa pods with underweight beans, he said.

The dry season also aids the proliferation of termites, which damage trees and reduce production, according to Olubamiwa.

The West African nation’s two cocoa harvests include the main crop from October to December, and the smaller mid-crop from April to June, estimated at 66,000 tons in the 2013-14 season. Most of the country’s output is from farmers working on small plots in the southern cocoa belt.

Cocoa fell 0.5 percent to 2,034 pounds per ton as of 4:25 p.m. in London on Friday, declining for the fourth day in the longest falling streak since Oct. 2.