Late rain in Nigeria this year is helping cocoa trees to flower, raising hopes of a good harvest in the world's fourth biggest grower, after dry weather last year hurt output, farmers and analysts said.
Farmer Bojor Atangba has been spraying his trees to protect cocoa flowers from insects and clearing weeds to boost output since the rains started, adding that he wanted to produce enough to sell at record high prices in Nigeria.
"We're hopeful that the harvest this year will be better than last year," said Atangba, who owns a 15-hectare cocoa farm in the southeast producing region of Cross Rivers state.
A mix of rainfall and sunshine in the two main cocoa areas of Ondo state and Cross Rivers this year have helped pod formation but there are fears that too much rain may allow disease to spread, hurting bean quality, farmers say.
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.
Harvesting for the mid-crop could start around June or July, farmers say, as cocoa trees were still flowering in April. The late rains could see the main-crop extend to November.
Last year dry weather caused a poor harvest, forcing the Cocoa Association of Nigeria to cut its output forecast by 7 percent to 260,000 tonnes. However, the government expects cocoa output of up to 350,000 tonnes this year.
"The weather is very favourable. If it continues this way for the next couple of months, we would have a good harvest this year compared to last year," said cocoa analyst Robo Adhuse.
Adhuse said farmers in Ondo state were still receiving free seeds from the government to boost output. But they were waiting for promised policies aimed at the sector, whose growth is seen as vital to offset a slump in oil revenue, one year after President Muhammadu Buhari took office.
However, farmers have invested in inputs and agricultural practices, Adhuse said, because farmgate prices in Africa's biggest economy have been rising. They hit an all-time high of 900,000 naira per tonne this month against 450,000 naira a year ago, thanks also to a weaker naira.
Most raw beans are usually destined for Asia and Europe, with only a small portion consumed at home. Now high prices is putting domestic demand at risk as local processors, fighting for survival as working capital needs rise, store only what they can grind immediately, analysts say.