Sunday, October 17

Sunshine over Ivory Coast’s cocoa farms burns off black pod outbreak

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ABIDJAN — Even as heavy rain continued to fall in many of Ivory Coast’s cocoa growing regions last week, sporadic sun spells encouraged farmers’ hopes for a bountiful main crop, calming fears that a fungal epidemic could hinder harvest quality.

The world’s top cocoa producer is in its rainy season, which runs from April to mid-November when downpours are frequent. Cocoa production requires heavy rain with intervals of sun for growing and drying the beans.

Dry spells have been more sporadic than usual this season. Farmers reported earlier this month that a fast-spreading fungal disease called black pod had been found in some plantations, the result of beans not drying properly.

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But farmers across the country last week said the black pod outbreak had begun to ease, thanks in part to more frequent bouts of sunshine.

“We were afraid but all is OK now. There is less damage from the sun,” said Justin Banga, who farms near the eastern region of Abengourou, where 32.8 millimeters (mm) of rain fell last week, 6.1 mm above the five- year average.

Farmers said the October-to-March main crop was developing well, and a good mix of moisture and heat through the end of October would help harvesting reach an early peak.

In the center-western region of Daloa, where rainfall was below the average, and in the central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro, where rains were above average, farmers said the added moisture would improve the size and quality of their pods.

At the heart of the cocoa belt in the western region of Soubre, farmers said harvesting was picking up despite another week of heavy rains. More frequent sunny spells, while short, had rekindled hopes for an easy drying of the crop.

“Within two weeks there will be cocoa being dried everywhere,” said Pascal Kouablan, who farms near Soubre, where 24.2 mm fell last week, 2.1 mm above the average.

Temperatures in Ivory Coast last week ranged from 26.1 to 29.4 degrees Celsius on average. (Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly Editing by Cooper Inveen and Bernadette Baum)

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