Caterpillar infestation threatens Côte d’Ivoire cocoa mid-crop

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest cocoa producer. (Reuters pic)

ABIDJAN: Caterpillars are eating into cocoa crops in coastal regions of Côte d’Ivoire, threatening what so far has been a promising April-to-September mid-crop, farmers said on Monday.

An agronomist who advises farmers in San-Pédro Region, part of Bas-Sassandra District, said about 200 hectares are already affected by caterpillars eating cocoa pods and leaves in the world’s largest producer.

“We will have a lot of losses. The caterpillars are ravaging many pods and leaves in the plantations,” said Apollinaire Boa, who farms in the outskirts of the town Sassandra, also in Bas-Sassandra District. Other farmers in San-Pédro and Sassandra expressed similar concerns.

The caterpillar problem appeared to be so far isolated to the coastal regions, and elsewhere, farmers said rain and sun last week had helped crops and that harvesting had picked up. Rainy season downpours are expected to become heavy in the coming weeks, aiding crops further.

In Bas-Sassandra, at the heart of the cocoa belt, farmers said the soil moisture content could support the crop for two months.

Even if it’s very hot in the weeks ahead, the trees will not suffer and the pods will grow well,” said Salame Koné, who farms in the outskirts of the city of Soubré. “We will have enough large beans for the next two months.”

Data showed that rainfall in Bas-Sassandra District was 14.3 millimetres last week, 10.9 mm below average.

In the central-western district of Haut-Sassandra, which produces a quarter of Côte d’Ivoire’s output, farmers said they were hoping for wet weather to boost the crop there.

“We need abundant and regular rains right now to make things better and to make the crop long,” said Albert N’Zue, who farms near Daloa, which received 17.3 mm of rain last week, 6.7 mm below average.

Farmers remained optimistic about the western district of Montagnes and in the eastern district of Comoé.

Data showed that 41.1 mm of rain fell last week in Montagnes, which includes Duékoué, 17.6 mm above average.

Comoé, which includes Aboisso, received 5.6 mm of rain last week, 21 mm below average.