Improved seed development programmes would improve cocoa production

Cocoa-farmersAlthough Ghana’s cocoa production fell short of industry forecasts for the 2015/16 growing season, increased investment in seed development programmes and infrastructure upgrades should improve output over the coming years.

“Crop production for the 2015/16 growing season, which spans October to September, reached 690,000 tonnes, although this fell short of the 850,000-tonne projection made by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), the state promotion and oversight agency.

This was contained in a statement by the Oxford Business Group OBG) and copied to the Ghana news Agency on Friday.

The statement said yields from both the main harvest and the secondary harvest, which began in late June, were impacted by a prolonged and particularly severe harmattan, a dry wind that blows in from the Sahara Desert, as well as by low rainfall at critical times during the growing cycle.

It said while most of Ghana’s agricultural output was rain-fed, with the drought impacting production across the sector more broadly, cocoa was particularly vulnerable to the harmattan, which dried seeds and eroded yields.

“In addition, the proliferation of illegal mining also takes an environmental toll, negatively affecting the cocoa segment,” said Madam Charity Sackitey, Managing Director for cocoa and chocolate producer Barry Callebaut Ghana.

The statement said, “Another concern is the proximity of illegal and small-scale mining to cocoa plantations, as heavy metal poisoning and pollution are degrading the land and affecting freshwater and underground aquifers.”

The latest result is also well below Ghana’s 2014/15 cocoa output, which totalled 730,000 tonnes, below COCOBOD’s forecast of 1m tonnes, due to an outbreak of black pod disease and adverse weather conditions that year, the statement said.

It said the low 2014/15 harvest meant that for only the third time in the past decade, cocoa had to be imported from Côte d’Ivoire to cover the shortfall.

“Ghana imported 15,500 tonnes of light crop cocoa beans,” the statement quoted Seth Terkper, Minister of Finance, as part of his address to parliament earlier this year.

It said the beans were used to supplement local production to fulfill companies’ processing capacity.

It said it was not just Ghana – the world’s second-largest cocoa producer after Côte d’Ivoire, that was experiencing a drop in output.

The statement said in August, the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) revised its global production estimates for the 2015/16 season.

It said that total global output was forecasted to reach 3.99m tonnes, a decline of 5.9 per cent year-on-year, which would leave a 212,000-tonne supply shortfall.

The statement said the dip appeared to be temporary, with future prospects for the industry being more bullish. It added that earlier this year, COCOBOD announced it was planning to more than double cocoa output to 1.6 million tonnes by 2026.

The sector body is committed to distributing up to 60m free hybrid cocoa seedlings per year, the statement said.

“The new variety is more resistant to pests and diseases, including black pod disease, and able to withstand harsher weather conditions. As of mid-September, the agency had distributed 110 million hybrid cocoa seedlings from its nurseries, according to press reports, it said.

The statement said the seedlings were also expected to increase yields, according to Isaac Yaw Opoku, Executive Director of the Seed Production Unit at COCOBOD.

“Currently, the crops we have in the farms have an average yield level of about 450 to 500 kg per ha,” It quoted Mr.Opoku to have told local media at the launch of the initiative.

“However, with the new seedlings that we are given free of charge, the yield level is between 1000 and 1500 kg per ha, ” it said.

The statement said in addition to COCOBOD’s focus on supporting cocoa production, improvements to Ghana’s transport infrastructure were expected to have some benefits for the cocoa industry.

In recent years, better and expanded road networks have allowed crops to be moved more quickly from plantation to processing centres and export hubs, thereby reducing spoilage, the statement said.

It said further upgrades to the country’s ports – such as the $1.5 million project planned at the Port of Tema, slated for completion at the end of 2019 – were also expected to allow faster loading of export commodities, including cocoa.

Source: GNA

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