Cocoa volumes arriving at Ivory Coast ports are expected to drop 28.5% year-on-year in the first three months of the 2023/2024 season due to erratic weather conditions, according to cocoa farmers, exporters, and pod counters.
The world's top grower of the main ingredient in chocolate has launched its new harvest season with the main crop expected to be harvested between October and March.
Five cocoa exporters, three cocoa pod counters, and a dozen farmers in the cocoa belt region blamed the slowdown in bean arrivals on an expected smaller output from farms because of late and abundant rainfall.
Cocoa growing requires steady spells of rainfall with periods of sunshine. But the West African region that includes top growers Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon – which together accounts for around 70% of global supply – are witnessing poor growing conditions.
In several farms in Ivory Coast, tiny flowers that become pods after 22 weeks did not survive heavy rains. The pods yellowed prematurely on the trees, while already developed pods were attacked by brown rot fungal disease, a cocoa pod counter told Reuters.
"Our counts, and analysis of our data, forecast a main crop production of around 900,000 metric tonnes for October-December, and around 500,000 tonnes for the January-March period," the pod counter said, adding these numbers could only be reached if no further events disrupted farming.
In the 2022/2023 season, arrivals were at around 1.259 million tonnes from October to December.
Analysts are concerned that the El Niño weather event could continue hurt output in the 2023/24 season.
Global cocoa prices have rallied in recent weeks, reaching their highest since 1977, due to the weather concerns and poor harvest forecasts from major producers.
"The harvest is not late. There is simply not enough cocoa at the moment and it is going to be a difficult season," said the head of a European export company who separately gave the same estimate as the pod counter.
Both requested anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media.
Two Big Harvests
In Ivory Coast's cocoa belt, farmers told Reuters they could gather two big harvests in October and November before tapering off, and then resuming sometime in January.
A Reuters journalist visited farms around the Soubre region this week that had abundant yellow and green pods on trees but few small offshoot cherelles that grow to become new pods, while many flowers had fallen off amid continuing rains.
"Last year, I already had nine 70 kg bags of cocoa in September, and I was able to make three other big harvests between October and December, but this year I have one bag and I am thinking of making a harvest in October and another in November, but I don't see anything for December," said Ousmane Diawarra, who farms seven hectares in Soubre.
According to the exporters and pod counters, annual cocoa output for Ivory Coast is expected at around 1.9 million tonnes this season compared to nearly 2.3 million last season.
However, they remained cautious on output for the April-September mid-crop, which accounts for 30% of the country's total annual production.
"No one expects a 2-million-tonne harvest this year. We all agree that we will have a drop of at least 300,000 tonnes and the maximum projected today is 1.9 million tonnes," said the director of an Abidjan-bases European cocoa export company.