Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Increasingly erratic climate menaces Africa's cocoa

Loucoumane Coulibaly in Reuters: The weather may not always have been kind to cocoa farmers in West Africa, but until recently it was at least broadly predictable. Temperature always hovered between 22 and 29 degrees Celsius, rains fell between April and July -- plus another short period between October and mid-November -- and the sun shone the rest of the time, fattening up cocoa beans and enabling drying.

Scientists say climate change may be altering these once reliable weather patterns in West Africa, which is the source of some two thirds of the world's cocoa. Survival in a warmer world for the millions of smallholders who depend on cocoa may depend on moving to higher, cooler places or breeding new varieties, experts say.

Lately, farmers and agronomists say, weather has become hotter and more erratic. Temperatures often reach 32C and rains come too early or too late. Dry spells are harsher or the skies are overcast when they're meant to be sunny.

"It's much hotter than it used to be, even two decades ago," said 71-year old cocoa planter Souleymane Drabre on his three hectare plantation in Ivory Coast, a country feeding a third of the world market. That wouldn't matter if the cocoa tree was less sensitive, but yields suffer without the right mix of rain and sun at the appropriate times...

Cocoa production in Ghana, shot by Eggi, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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