Fifty-eight year-old farmer, Mohammed Karim has 10 acres of cocoa trees that he is not sure will yield the kind of harvest he expects at this time of year.
The farm, which Karim inherited from his father 18 years ago is located over 150 kilometers southwest of the capital, Accra.
Here, as in other cocoa growing regions of Ghana, the Harmattan – cold, dry and dusty winds blowing across West Africa from the Sahara – is sapping soil moisture and spoiling seeds.
In terms of real GDP, for example in 2015 we noticed that because of the harsh weather condition the cocoa sub sector declined by 1.4 percent and that led to a slow down in the growth of the sector.
While weather conditions have improved compared with last year, farmers said rains, which started in March and are vital to the development of the light crop, have been insufficient and patchy.
“We have been worried by the Harmattan. It could really affect the cocoa farms because there has not been enough rain. We tried to be patient, otherwise we wouldn’t even have bothered and we could have said enough is enough. Now it is raining but it’s not really what we expected. I have also not been receiving farm inputs like fertilizers and all this is a worry for farmers. The government should try and do something for us,” said Karim.
Ghana’s 2014/15 output came in at 730,000 tonnes of beans – well below an initial forecast of more than 1 million tonnes – due to poor weather and what farmers said were inadequate supplies of fertilisers and pesticides.
Industry regulator Cocobod’s 2015/16 production target, set at the start of the season in October, is in line with Ghana’s average annual output of 850,000 tonnes, the bulk of which is harvested during the main crop that runs from October to May.
The light crop, also called the mid crop, is expected to open this month, though its start date can vary.
Officials from the industry regulator, Cocobod say they are confident Ghana was still on track to hit its target.
“We had targeted that we’ll be able to produce 850,000 metric tonnes. We are hoping that the way it performed we would be able to achieve that, but because the rains had just set in we’re yet to see the light crop and how it will also behave and we can then assess the severity or the effect of the long stretch of Harmattan,” said Cocobod spokesman, Noah Amenyah.
Cocoa is a backbone of Ghana’s economy along with gold and oil.
Ghana has more than 1 million cocoa farmers who rely on the crop and the lower production this season also hurts government revenue at a time when the country is following an International Monetary Fund loan package aimed at restoring fiscal stability.
The country saw growth slow sharply in 2014 due to lower global commodity prices and economic instability including a sharply falling currency, damaging Ghana’s reputation as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s boom markets.
“In terms of real GDP, for example in 2015 we noticed that because of the harsh weather condition the cocoa sub sector declined by 1.4 percent and that led to a slow down in the growth of the agricultural sector from 4.6 percent to 2.4 percent. So this is what impact a declining cocoa sector can have on the agricultural sector and the GDP of a country like Ghana,” said Kingsley Martey, an economic analyst in Accra.
Local buyers and traders said the overall crop still looked set to end with output below the long-term average.
Experts say the Harmattan will also affect mid crop output in neighbouring Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower.