By Loucoumane Coulibaly
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's main cocoa growing regions saw patchy rains and intermittent sunshine last week, as farmers said an outbreak of the fungal black pod disease continued to gain ground little a over a month before the start of the 2012/13 season.
The 2012/13 season in the world's top cocoa grower officially opens on October 1 with the start of main crop harvesting.
Good rains had fuelled optimism for the forthcoming season, but a month of cloud cover and cool weather has hindered proper bean drying and led to the appearance of black pod. A delay in government distribution of agricultural chemicals has left many farmers struggling to fight off the disease.
Farmers have said the weather must improve in the critical month of September if the new season gets off to a healthy start.
In the western region of Daloa, responsible for a quarter of Ivory Coast's national output, farmers reported two good showers but said that few plantations had applied anti-fungal treatments and a black pod outbreak there was worsening as a result.
"There was rain, but the sun did not improve from the week before. The trees have produced a lot, but black pod is spreading on many plantations," said Daloa farmer Marcel Aka.
In the southern region of Divo, where farmers reported no rainfall, continuing poor weather conditions were also darkening the outlook for the forthcoming harvest.
"It's worrying. There hasn't been any rain at all. Cool temperatures and poor sunshine have killed off a lot of cherelles (small pods)," said Amadou Diallo, who farms on the outskirts of Divo.
"There had been a lot of cherelles on the trees, and we'd hoped to start the main crop with lots of cocoa. But that's not going to happen now," he said.
Conditions were better in the southeastern region of Aboisso, where an analyst reported 15.1 millimetres of rainfall, compared with 5.3 mm the previous week. Farmers said afternoon sunny spells had made them optimistic for the main crop.
"It's heating up in the afternoons. That really helps the pods. There are lots of ripe pods on the trees, and farmers will begin harvesting next week to pay for their children's return to school," said local farmer Etienne Yao.
In the western region of Soubre, in the heart of the cocoa belt, one analyst reported no rainfall compared with 10 millimetres of rain the previous week.
"We're getting a bit of sunshine generally in the afternoon," said Koffi Kouame, who farms near Soubre.
"There's lots of cocoa on the trees. For now harvesting is timid, but if there is hot weather starting this week and through the end of September, I think there will be a lot of good quality cocoa for the main crop," he said.
In the coastal region of Sassandra, which has seen its current mid-crop production damaged by months of poor rains, analysts reported 5 mm of rainfall, compared with nil the previous week. Farmers said disappointing output there was expected to extend into the beginning of the new cocoa season.
"We won't have lots of cocoa like we had last year. We didn't have enough rain this year, and it's still cool. It's not good for the trees," said farmer Alphonse Lattro.
(Editing by Joe Bavier and James Jukwey)