27 Feb

Ivory Coast Cocoa Farmers Get Relief as Rains Return Early

Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, the world’s top producer, got some welcome relief in the past week with higher-than-normal rainfall across the main growing regions.

It rained heavily on Wednesday night for more than six hours, said Robert Glaou, a farmer in the western town of Bangolo. Harmattan conditions have ended, he said, referring to winds from the Sahara that bring dry weather and coolness to West Africa from December to February.

“The weather is currently very good,” said Narcisse Konan, the head of a cooperative in southwest Ivory Coast. “There were small pods on the trees and we needed some rain to make them stronger.” The Harmattan overall was very mild this year, he said.

Ivory Coast is nearing the end of its main crop, the larger of two cocoa harvests that runs from October to March. The rain will help development of the smaller mid-crop, although wet weather tends to slow harvesting.

Satellite imagery from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center for Feb. 18 to 24 suggests well-above-average rainfall across Ivory Coast, as well as the biggest-producing regions of neighboring Ghana, the No. 2 grower.

“It has been raining in the area for several days,” said Jeannot Assi, a farmer in the southern town of Alepe, in Ivory Coast. “We are now seeing flowers and small pods” on the trees.

There has also been heavy rain in Tiebissou, in the center of Ivory Coast, that will allow the trees to bloom, said farmer Moussa Kouassi. Growers have begun maintenance work for the mid-crop harvest, he said.

While the weather has improved, harvesting volumes have decreased as the main crop peters out and farmers in the west and southwest said they’ve seen bean size and quality deteriorate.

“The beans are small,” said Vincent Zadi, a farmer in Grand Zatry, in the southwest. More rains are needed to help the cocoa trees to bloom and produce small pods, he said.

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23 Feb

Ghana Risks the Anger of 800,000 Cocoa Farmers

The government of President Nana Akufo-Addo in Ghana will struggle to sidestep one of its most difficult decisions since coming to power a year ago: telling a crucial constituency to accept a pay cut.

The New Patriotic Party-led government has little choice but to end subsidies for its 800,000 farmers that will likely cost almost $450 million this season.

Ghana Cocoa Board, the industry regulator in the world’s second-biggest producer, is running out of cash with few options for funding left other than to sell short-term debt to local investors at rates as high as 22 percent.

Justifying a decision to end the support will be tricky. The NPP swept to power in the December 2016 polls after pledging to invest in farms and increase prices.

Justifying a decision to end the support will be tricky. The NPP swept to power in the December 2016 polls after pledging to invest in farms and increase prices.

Farmers are unimpressed with the prospect of the government going back on its promises even though international prices have slumped by more than a third since the middle of 2016.

“If the government cannot afford to pay for its own loose talking, then it must borrow,” said Michael Acheampong, 37, a cocoa farmer in Kwabeng, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of the capital, Accra. “To announce a cut after promising to help us is a sacrilegious crime. We will not accept that.”

Ghana has little room to support prices even if rising output from new oil fields are supporting an economic revival.

While the World Bank forecasts that the economy will expand by 8.3 percent in 2018, the fastest rate in Africa, the country remains bound by conditions for disciplined spending that are attached to an almost $1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, agreed to in April 2015.

Ghana Cocoa Board is losing the equivalent of about $600 for every metric ton of the 850,000 tons that it plans to purchase this season until September, the regulator said earlier this month.

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