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Ivory Coast Cocoa Bounty Could Dry Up as El Niño Strengthens

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Plentiful rain is favoring the current mid-crop cocoa harvest in Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer. But the country’s main cocoa harvest, which starts later this year, could suffer as El Niño climate conditions are expected to gain strength. 

Accumulated precipitation in Ivory Coast’s cocoa growing areas so far in 2023 is 49% above the five-year average — the region’s highest total precipitation for this time of year since at least 2000 — as shown by Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, which can be weighted to highlight conditions for specific crops and regions. (See chart below.) For the 2022/23 marketing year, which ends in September, the country is forecast to produce 2.20 million tonnes of cocoa, up 4% from the previous year due to the heavy rains. 

Ivory Coast harvests cocoa throughout the year, producing two crops. The smaller mid-crop is harvested from April to September, and the larger main crop is harvested from October to March. With El Niño climate conditions forecast to strengthen into the 2023/24 Northern Hemisphere winter, that could spell trouble for Ivory Coast’s main crop cocoa yields.

Previous El Niño years have led to drier conditions in West Africa, curtailing cocoa yields in the region. 

In the El Niño years of 2009 and 2015, for example, accumulated rainfall declined sharply from the five-year average by 53% and 30%, respectively, in the period from July to September — the months during which weather conditions have the greatest impact on Ivory Coast’s main cocoa crop, according to a Gro analysis. As a result, Ivory Coast cocoa yields dropped 6.5% in 2009 from a year earlier and were down 2.2% in 2015. 

After three successive years of La Niña climate conditions, which tend to bring additional precipitation to West Africa’s cocoa plantations, there is much uncertainty about what the return of El Niño holds in store for the region’s production. Nearly half of the world's cocoa bean production comes from Ivory Coast. Together with neighboring Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria, the four countries account for three-quarters of all cocoa beans. 

Such concentration of supply in a single agricultural area underlines the outsize impact of the region’s weather patterns on world cocoa prices and supplies. It also underlines the importance of monitoring growing conditions in the region, including precipitation, soil moisture, and temperature, as shown in these displays, weighted for Ivory Coast cocoa, in Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture and in Gro’s Climate Anomalies application

Accumulated precipitation so far in 2023 (red line) in cocoa growing areas of Ivory Coast is 49% above the five-year average. But the expected strengthening of El Niño later this year could bring drier conditions, which can be monitored using Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture application. 

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