YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Cameroon's cocoa mid-crop harvest is at risk to an outbreak of capsid bugs in the centre and caterpillars in the south-west, according to field reports from two regions that make up 80 percent of output.
Capsids are insects which attack trees, feed on the young branches and cause crop loss. They are most active when the young branches shoot out and spread during the dry weather afflicting the cocoa crop across West Africa.
Cameroon is the world's fifth largest grower. Production hit a record of 240,000 tonnes in 2010/11 with the Cocoa Development Company (SODECAO) expecting it to rise to 250,000 tonnes in 2011/12. However exports have been lagging in the season so far.
"We've so far had three months of persistent hard sunshine and dusty weather not good for cocoa plants which have been attacked by capsids," said local farmers' union president Emmanuel Nnogo Akolo from Emana, 70 km (40 miles) north of the capital Yaounde.
"Many members of our union have come to complain to me that their trees have lost or are losing leaves and dying because of the harmful effects of the insects, an indication that output will surely drop."
He said cocoa farmers had been told to use insecticides at least two times between August and December to prevent capsid attacks, but the practice had in some cases been neglected because they have not had the disease for the past five years.
Speaking to Reuters from main regional cocoa trading town Bafia, 135 km north of Yaounde, farmer Emmanuel Nguile said some 500 trees on his 60-ha farm were hit.
"For the first time during my 25 years of growing cocoa, we had to dig deep to obtain water because all streams near the farm have dried up," said Nguile, who is also vice-president of the 55,000-member National Organisation of the Cocoa and Coffee Producers in Cameroon (ONPCCC).
Nguile feared overall output this year could fall 20-25 percent. Exports to end-December were already down 11 percent on the year so far, with the dry spell cited as one possible factor for the drop.
Andre Marie Lema, chief of operations of the Cocoa and Coffee Interprofessional Board (CCIB), confirmed reports that caterpillars were eating off the leaves of cocoa trees at Konye in the other main growing South-West Region.
Bau Makia Ndedi, president of Konye Area Farmers Cooperative Union (KONAFCOOP), said 30 percent of the farms in the locality 30 km north of the regional trading centre Kumba, had been hit.
"We just discovered two weeks ago that a large number of caterpillars had invaded our farms, eating up the leaves on cocoa trees," he said, adding the government had interevened with emergency funds to buy more pesticides.
Cocoa is a leading cash crop in Cameroon, generating close to 300 billion CFA francs in 2010/11. The season normally runs from August 1 to July 31, with the main crop harvest from October up to February and the mid-crop harvest from April to July. There have been variations in recent years due to changes in the climate.