The decline this season would mark its worst harvest in at least six years, and would offset expected increases elsewhere in the West African cocoa growing zone three months after supply worries pushed world cocoa futures to a 30 year high.
“Our cocoa production has been falling in the past few years mainly due to an attack by the swollen shoot disease,” said Saint-Cyr Djikalou, Ivory Coast’s representative to the International Cocoa Organisation.
The country accounts for roughly a third of the world’s production of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, though output has been hard hit in recent years by a slump in investment in the sector following a 2002-03 civil war.
Djikalou said cocoa output this year will hit 1.20 million tonnes, down from just over 1.22 million tonnes in the previous season which marked the worst Ivorian performance since at least 2004-05.
The outlook contrasts with expectations among Ivory Coast’s farmers that the tail end of the current season, which runs from October-to-September, will be strong thanks to favourable growing weather.
Djikalou said future crops were also at risk from disease.
“The government and research partners have intensified efforts to contain the spread of the disease and we are still waiting for the results,” he said. “But the way things are now our output could drop to anything between 1 million and 1.1 million tonnes next year.”
The dim outlook in Ivory Coast could overshadow a rosier picture elsewhere in the region.
Both Nigeria and Cameroon have said they expect increases in cocoa output this year, while No. 2 world producer Ghana has said official output data would fall only because cross-border smuggling is keeping tonnage off the books.
Together, the four Africa producers account for nearly two-thirds of global cocoa output.
WORLD BANK CONCERNS
Ivory Coast’s government is seeking to reform the cocoa sector amid rising complaints from farmers that they are unable to make enough money to maintain their plantations.
The reforms meant to revitalise the sector had been put on hold pending elections meant to reunite Ivory Coast after its 2002-2003 war. The polls have been repeatedly delayed but diplomats think Gbagbo could enact reforms by decree anyway.
However, the World Bank has urged caution against hasty implementation of any possible plans to set up government-run bodies that would forward sell 70 percent of the harvest in order to try and guarantee prices for Ivorian farmers.
“If this mechanism, which we know has its weaknesses, is to be set up, it must come from wide and deep consultations,” according to a World Bank document seen by Reuters.
“We think that it is not advisable to do it is such a short time as by April 2010,” it added.
The World Bank stressed the need to Ivorian cocoa cooperatives to become better organised before they can play their role in the new system. It also expressed concern about plans to ask exporters to pre-finance the crop.