In recent months, there has been continuous heavy rainfall across the country – with its accompanying challenges like flooding, breeding diseases and plant failure within the agriculture space – in which cocoa production is seriously affected.
Experts have attributed the prevailing heavy downpours to the wide-ranging impact of climate change on the environment. Climate change has led to increase in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather conditions and reduction in water availability. These conditions may be unconducive for certain crops, which eventually results in a reduction of productivity.
Extreme cases of flooding have caused crops to be submerged in water, resulting in devastating losses. Most foliage of submerged plants dies: food crops’ submerged leaves are unable to exchange atmospheric gases (mainly carbon dioxide and oxygen) while tree crops like cocoa die in the medium-term.
The B&FT has also learnt that excessively wet conditions can negatively affect crop production in other ways. Abnormally high amounts of rain can leach nutrients, especially nitrogen, from the soil. Nitrogen added to the soil in the form of granular fertiliser is especially vulnerable to leaching. If this occurs, farmers either have to incur the additional cost of reapplying fertiliser or experience the reduction in crop yield associated with nutrient deficiency.
Like any other plant, cocoa can bear the right quantities if the trees enjoy specific climate balance to ensure strong growth, amid resistance to diseases. Cocoa trees only prosper under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind. But excessive and continuous rainfall could be deadly for the plant.
Last year, cocoa farmers experienced harsh weather due to lack of rain. Between August and September 2020 the situation was worrying for farmers in the Ahafo Region, one of the leading cocoa production areas in the country. Mr. Peter Adongo, a farmer at Agyarekrom in the Sankore cocoa district recounted that “most of the cocoa trees are fruiting, but lack of rain is causing the pods to fall prematurely”.
One would have argued that the prayers of farmers have been answered in 2021. But their answered prayer is rather turning out to be a ‘curse’ for them. Emanating from the devastating impact of climate change, the much-awaited rainfall is coming in excess – posing diverse threats to cocoa production.
The Meteorological Director in charge of Bono and Ahafo Regions, Mubarick Raj Salifu, told the B&FT that, ideally, there should had been some rainfall break around ending of July to the early weeks of August; but the scenario was otherwise. He forecasted continuous heavy downpours till November 2021, saying: “This year, the rainfall pattern is a complete deviation from the norm. Framers must brace themselves for disruption of farming seasons, especially the minor one; they must learn to implement climate change adaptation measures to stay relevant”.
Reacting to the situation, David Gyebi-Afriyie-COCOBOD Officer in charge of Sankore Cocoa District in the Ahafo Region said: “Should the heavy downpour persist as forecasted by the Meteorological Agency, it will be inimical to cocoa productivity. Heavy rainfall is not good for pollination, both natural and artificial; it will force flowers to fall off, which will delay fruiting. The delayed fruiting will translate into late and low harvests”.
It would not be out of place to deduce that the unconducive climatic conditions for cocoa are likely to compromise fortunes of the cocoa hand-pollination exercise initiated by COCOBOD. In 2017, COCOBOD started nationwide hand-pollination as part of its productivity enhancement programmes (PEPs). Since its inception, it has been a game-changer by multiplying farmers’ yield. But as earlier explained by the COCOBOD official, too much rain will defeat the purpose of the exercise and eventually affect productivity.
A farmer at Wamfie in the Bono Region, Sulley Mustapha, in an interview revealed that cocoa pods on his 8-arce farm have started rot on the trees. “I strongly believe the consistent rainfall in recent months is fuelling the rotting pods.
“Some portions of farm have been swamped with water, and continuous stagnation of the water will make the cocoa trees die. If it persists for long, then I’m sorry; farmers will lose huge quantities of cocoa beans.”
Statistics from the COCOBOD indicate that Ghana recorded over 1.4 million metric tonnes of cocoa beans in 2019/2020 season. The figure represents a significant 45 percent growth over the previous season’s achievement.
COCOBOD has attributed the mammoth production achievement to ‘effective implementation’ of policies and programmes such as hand-pollination, pruning and disease control. In the country’s quest to sustain the increasing level of cocoa production, it is imperative for the COCOBOD to roll-out mitigating practices which help reduce the impact of climate change on cocoa production.