Ghana's hopes of recording a rebound in cocoa production next year hang in the balance, following the intensification of the arid harmattan winds, which risk drying up cocoa pods and lowering the amount of beans the country will produce in the 2015/16 crop season.
The dimming hopes in the sector is compounded by worrying sentiments from the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet) that the dryness in the weather could stretch well into February before isolated rains begin in the coastal areas towards the end of that month.
Already, the dew point, which measures the level of moisture in the atmosphere, has dropped to 0.5 degrees Celsius in Accra, the lowest in many years.
The normal due point for Accra has been between 10 to 12 degrees Celsius, according to the GMet.
"If what we are seeing is anything to go by, then we should be bracing ourselves for one of the worst harmattans this year because what we have seen over the past three to four weeks shows that the dryness will prolong and it will intensify," a Principal Meteorologist at the agency, Mr Joseph Tetteh Portuphy, told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS on December 20.
Fear of repeat
The dryness in the dusty northeasterly winds have the tendency of aborting the cocoa flowers, which normally mature into cherelles before becoming pods – the fleshy elongated vessels that host the beans.
Thus, with humidity being a crucial component of pod development in the cocoa tree, industry stakeholders fear an arid weather, as predicted by GMet, would translate into flower abortion, which would intend lower the country's production figures in the ongoing season.
Ghana is the second biggest producer of the crop after Côte d'Ivoire, which has already hinted of subdued production due to harsh weather.
While stressing that it was too early to give a clearer picture of the impact of the weather on output, a management executive at the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) said indications were that the fruiting trees would suffer flower abortion and cherelle wild similar to what contributed to the lower-than-expected output in the 2014/15 season.
"I'm currently in the field and I can see a lot of flowers on the trees. So, if the weather continues this way (being dry and haze), then we could see a lot of flower abortion and that can bring a repeat," the source said.
"However, we expect prospects to be better his year than last year," the source added.
In the 2014/15 season, when the winds prolonged, COCOBOD reported a shortfall of about 23 per cent, which it blamed largely on harsh weather and diseased crops.
In that season, cocoa output dropped to 700,000 metric tones (against a target of 750,000), down from the previous season's harvest of 900,000 tones.
The Principal Meteorologist at the GMet added that recent happenings showed that this year's harmattan could be one of the worse, with relative humidity (RH) in Accra already hovering between 28 degrees Celsius and 35 degrees Celsius at 15:00GMT.
"This year, it may be bad. Yes, last year we had intensed harmattan but it did not last long as this one. We are in the third to fourth week and the dryness is still intense," Mr Portuphy said.
Judging from the aforementioned, he said the agency would not be surprised if this year records the harshest harmattan ever.
Should that happen, he said the country would have to hope for bumper rainfalls in the main season "to compensate for any losses in the cocoa sector."
Despite the negative impact of harsh weather on production figures, a lower than expected output can prompt cocoa price increments and that will inure to the benefit of Ghana and other producers of the crop.
As of December 21, a tone of the crop was selling at US$3,252 on the international market.