By Chijioke Ohuocha
Nigeria's cocoa mid-crop output is expected to be weak as measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus hindered farmers and exporters, creating a backlog of unshipped beans, the president of the cocoa association said.
Mufutau Abolarinwa told Reuters that some of April's orders were still being exported after lockdowns disrupted transport and port activities. Around 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes of beans were stuck at Lagos port and warehouses in the country, he said.
Nigeria is the world's fifth biggest cocoa grower, and its mid-crop - harvested between May and September - comes in at between 50,000 and 60,000 tonnes when weather conditions are good and chemicals readily available to spray diseased trees.
The government last week eased month-long lockdowns in commercial hub Lagos state, neighbouring cocoa producing state Ogun and the capital Abuja. But interstate movement has been banned, creating a headache for cocoa delivery.
Ships are being quarantined at the port, creating extra storage costs.
Trading houses are anxious to receive their shipments, Abolarinwa said, noting that delays could affect demand for further beans from farmers, especially as the mid-crop harvest is about to start.
"We are hoping for an improvement," Abolarinwa told Reuters by phone.
One local buying agent echoed Abolarinwa's concern and said the export delays have also slowed domestic demand because buyers were struggling to resell beans stuck in their warehouses to exporters.
Some farmers said this year's mid-crop could begin in the southwest region a month later than usual, in June, due to late rains, and output could be hit by a lack of chemicals. This could see the main crop extend to November.
No official figures for 2018/19 cocoa output have been released. The International Cocoa Organization estimates 2018/19 output at 250,000 tonnes.
Farmers expect the late rains to affect bean weight for the mid-crop which could be around 270-280 grammes, compared with average weight of around 300 grammes.
"We are supposed to be spraying now to avoid black pod disease once the rains start," said Oko Aja, who owns a 42-hectare cocoa farm in Nigeria's second-biggest producing region of Cross Rivers state.
"But because of coronavirus, labour is scarce, and we don't know whether we would get chemicals or not."
Nigeria has had 5,162 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus with 167 deaths. Some cocoa-producing states have confirmed cases, which has curbed farming practices as physical distancing rules disrupt the way farmers and buyers interact, analysts say.
"By now I should have produced around seven to eight tonnes from the light crop, but there's no production at the moment," said Aja.
(Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Jan Harvey)