The viral disease, which typically kills trees within a few years, first appeared a few years ago in southern and western Ivory Coast but is now causing serious damage to crops.
Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa grower with annual production reaching 2 million tonnes last season. About 60 percent of that comes from the south and west.
“That really worries us because before, around 2010-11, I had harvested four tonnes each year,” said Cisse Ousmane, who owns five hectares near the western town of Soubre. “This year, I am at 1.8 tonnes.”
On his plantation, desiccated trees lie mostly bare. The disease typically cuts production by a factor of two or three within four to five years.
Swollen shoot appeared in central Ivory Coast in 2006 and 2007 in the regions of Bouafle, Sinfra and Oumé. According to the authorities, more than 70 percent of plantations in the region were infected causing production on those plantations to decrease by about 60 percent between 2009 and 2017.
One exporter based in the commercial capital of Abidjan said that while the drop in production on plantations in central Ivory Coast was offset by rising production in protected forests, a recent government crackdown on illegal cultivation means output could now be down from last year’s record crop.
“This disease scares us,” said Sidibe Kante, a planter near the southern town of Meagui. “It is starting to spoil our production but we cannot do anything.”
Ivory Coast’s cocoa board announced plans earlier this year to uproot 300,000 hectares of infected trees over the next three years in an effort to curb the outbreak’s spread.