October 10, 2017 / 4:50 PM / in 10 months

Rampant disease in Ivory Coast cocoa belt threatens output

SAN PEDRO, Ivory Coast, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Neglect by cash-strapped cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast has led to rampant disease and pest outbreaks that threaten output as the new season gets under way, growers said on Tuesday.

While the world’s top cocoa producer reaped a record harvest of over 2 million tonnes of beans in 2016/17, it was hit hard by falling world prices which forced it to slash farmers’ earnings per kilogramme by more than a third.

Normally farmers apply fertilisers, various chemical treatments and pesticides in the months leading up to the October start of the main crop. But this year growers across the western cocoa heartland said they could not afford to.

“There is more disease this year on the plantations than in previous seasons. We didn’t apply treatments because we didn’t have the money,” said Donald Kape, who farms 11 hectares between the towns of San Pedro and Grand Bereby in southwest Ivory Coast.

Of 18 plantations visited by Reuters in the regions of Daloa, Soubre, Duekoue, San Pedro and Vavoua, all showed signs of disease as well as a general paucity of pods, cherelles (small pods) and flowers.

Trees there showed signs of damage by pod borers, caterpillars and mirids, while black pod, a fungal disease that rots cocoa before it ripens, was widespread.

San Pedro, Soubre and Daloa - among Ivory Coast’s most productive growing zones - were the worst affected by the outbreaks.

“I already see a drop in output, because last year I already had 11 (80-kg) sacks of cocoa at this point and I had ripe pods all over the plantation,” said Benjamin Djedje, who farms eight hectares near Yabayo.

“This year, I only have four sacks and only half the pods I had last year.”

Ivory Coast’s 2017/18 main crop harvest began on Oct. 1.

Early season output is also being threatened by an ethnic-fuelled land dispute that has driven thousands of farmers off illegal plantations since last month.

Reporting by Ange Aboa; Editing by Joe Bavier and Susan Fenton

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