September 15, 2014 / 3:34 PM / in 5 years

Rains boosts Ivorian cocoa crop, but disease concerns grow

* Ivory Coast wrapping up record harvest

* Rains good for next main crop in most regions

* Some farmers reporting black pod outbreaks

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Most of Ivory Coast’s cocoa growing regions saw steady rains and sunshine last week ahead of the start of the October-to-March main crop, but farmers in several areas reported the appearance of fungal black pod disease.

The world’s top cocoa producer is wrapping up a record 2013/14 harvest with exporters estimating current arrivals at around 1,772,000 tonnes by Sept. 14.

World prices have risen steadily since the beginning of the year on expectations of a global supply shortfall this season. ICE cocoa climbed to $3,300 in August, the highest level for the second month since May 2011.

However, the International Cocoa Organization last month revised its forecast for the global cocoa balance from a deficit of 75,000 tonnes to a surplus of 40,000 tonnes.

The ICE December cocoa contract traded down $10, or 0.3 percent, at $3,043 a tonne on Monday, rising off Thursday’s more than three-month low of $3,019. December cocoa in London was down 3 pounds, or 0.2 percent, at 1,991 pounds a tonne.

In the western region of Soubre, in the heart of the cocoa belt, an analyst reported 36 millimetres of rainfall in the spell, compared with 35 mm the previous week.

“There are enough ripe pods. Lots of growers are going to start harvesting next week,” said Lazare Ake, who farms on the outskirts of Soubre. “There is a lot of humidity under the trees.”

Good growing conditions were also reported in the western region of Gagnoa and in southern regions of Agboville, Divo and Tiassale.

Farmers in the southeastern region of Aboisso, however, complained that persistent heavy rains had triggered outbreaks of fungal black pod disease.

“There is no sunshine. It’s raining practically every day. Black pod is spreading,” said farmer Etienne Yao. “Many pods were already ripe. We worry that the disease will destroy them and reduce the harvest.”

In the centre-western region of Daloa, responsible for a quarter of Ivory Coast’s national output, farmers also reported the presence of the disease.

“It’s not there on a large scale,” said Abel Konan, who farms in the outskirts of Daloa. “We need lots of sunshine, otherwise, with the moisture we see on the plantations, there will be big losses.”

In the coastal region of San Pedro, farmers said continuing cool weather threatened to delay the start of the main crop harvest.

“There are many flowers and small pods that have fallen from the trees. If this weather continues until the end of the month, there won’t be much cocoa in the first two months of the main crop,” said Tchorna Silue, who farms near San Pedro. (Editing by Joe Bavier and Emma Farge)

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