Large cocoa bean stocks held over by merchants from last season have inflated port arrivals in Ivory Coast and led to a record start to the 2013/14 harvest, exporters said, but production is likely to drop off significantly this month.

Poor weather in the run up to the main harvests in West Africa has raised fears of a drop in output. The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) has forecast a global cocoa deficit in excess of 100,000 tonnes in 2013/14.

The Ivorian cocoa marketing board, the CCC, is forecasting production of 1.4 million, down slightly from last season.

Traders have bought heavily to head off the expected shortfall as demand for chocolate is expected to rebound, driving up prices.

But port arrivals in Ivory Coast, the world’s top producer, topped 900,000 tonnes in the first half of the October-to-March main crop - the highest level on record - according to exporter estimates, helping to temper the bull market. May cocoa on Liffe touched a seven-week low on Friday.

However, exporters say that this season’s early arrivals were composed largely of beans left over from the 2012/13 season and did not indicate a corresponding increase in production.

“We generally receive an average of 80,000 to 100,000 tonnes of beans in October, but this year we received more than 210,000 tonnes,” said the director of an Abidjan-based export firm.

“I discussed it with other exporters and we all came to the same conclusion. It was a part of the September volumes. Production didn’t change,” he said.


Ivory Coast introduced a minimum price for farmers last season as part of sweeping reforms, fixing it at 725 CFA francs ($1.51) per kilogramme for the 2012/13 main crop and 700 CFA/kg for the April-to-September mid-crop.

Merchants, who purchase the bulk of Ivorian production, anticipated a higher price scale for the start of the new harvest and warehoused much of last season’s late output in order to sell it for higher profits as 2013/14 cocoa.

“In September, the merchants and middlemen delivered just half of what they had to the port, and that was because the new price was going to go up,” said the commercial director of an international exporter in Abidjan.

Difficulties sourcing late season beans helped contribute to a 42 percent drop in stocks held by exporters in Abidjan and San Pedro at the end of the 2012/13 campaign, according to CCC data obtained by Reuters this week.

Arrivals this season peaked at around 95,000 tonnes per week in late December, according to exporters’ estimates, and have since declined sharply.

Just 28,000 tonnes of beans were delivered to ports last week, exporters said, less than half the amount shipped to exporters during the same week last season.

Exporters said the decline was likely to continue and saw arrivals stablising at around 15,000 tonnes per week in February and March with total main crop output likely to reach between 1.15 and 1.175 million tonnes by the end of March.

By comparison, arrivals from last season’s main crop totalled 1.077 million tonnes.

“It will all get back to normal in the second half of the (main crop) harvest. Little will have changed with regards to production,” said a third Abidjan-based exporter. ($1 = 480.8190 CFA francs)