Ivory Coast cocoa farmers hopeful as Harmattan winds start slow

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast remain cautiously optimistic as the start of the seasonal dry Harmattan winds had not affected crops so far, they told Reuters on Monday.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, is in its dry season, which runs from November to March when rain tends to be scarce or light. Rains last week in most of its cocoa belt were patchy, farmers said.

“The Harmattan is here, but it is manageable,” said Antoine Dechi, who farms near the southern region of Agboville. In Agboville, 11.6 millimetres (mm) of rains fell last week, 7.7 mm above the five-year average.

Harmattan winds sweep in sand from the Sahara and can ravage cocoa pods and sap soil moisture, damaging bean size.

But farmers in the central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro, in centre-western region of Daloa and in the southern region of Divo said the winds had intensified.

“The Harmattan has become strong with a lot of dust in the air,” said Koffi Konan, who farms near Daloa, which produces a quarter of Ivory Coast’s national output. No rain fell in Daloa last week.

“We hope it will not stay this intense for more than two weeks. Otherwise, we will have quality issues,” Konan added.

Data collected by Reuters showed the central region of Bongouanou received 0.4 mm last week, 0.8 mm below the five-year average.

The central region of Yamoussoukro received no rain last week while the southern region of Divo received 1.5 mm last week, 1 mm below the five-year average.

In the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, in the southern region of Agboville, and in the eastern region of Abengourou, known for the good quality of its beans, farmers said cocoa beans continued to leave the bush and small pods were growing on trees.

Data collected by Reuters showed the region of Abengourou, which included Aboisso, received 5.1 mm of rain last week, 1.4 mm above the five-year average. The western region of Soubre received 1.1 mm last week, 2.3 mm below the five-year average.

Temperatures on average ranged from 23.8 to 26.9 degrees Celsius.

Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly, editing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini and David Evans