The main cocoa producing regions of West Africa have so far been unaffected by the Ebola crisis, but concern is increasing.
The International Cocoa Organisation said the combined annual cocoa output of the two main affected countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, was just 25,000 tonnes. However, it warned there was a danger the disease could spread to the world’s biggest producer, Ivory Coast, which has an output of about 1.6 million tonnes. “Currently the main producers are not affected but, having said that, the Ivoirians are quite nervous as there have been outbreaks near their borders,” said an IOC spokesman.
The world’s biggest chocolate manufacturer, Barry Callebaut, said its operations in Ivory Coast were carrying on as normal and that even in Sierra Leone there had been little impact. However, it has cancelled its annual managers meeting in Ivory Coast in October and will hold it in Switzerland instead. “We continue to watch the future developments of the Ebola disease very closely, of course,” a spokesman added.
Elsewhere, reports have emerged from Sierra Leone of farmers abandoning fields, raising fears the country’s production output will be affected.
However, in the second-biggest producing nation, Ghana, Ebola was not currently a major concern for farmers, according to chocolate brand Divine.
If the Ebola crisis escalates further, it will put added stress on the cocoa sector. Supply is struggling to keep up with growing demand, particularly from Asia. Cocoa bean prices have risen 28.5% year on year and cocoa butter is up 35.6% [Mintec]. Production has been growing by double digits, but recent bad weather has raised concern. “Strong rain may affect the drying of the beans and the quality of the mid-crop,” said Mintec analyst Lili Gonzalez.