Although Ghana’s cocoa production fell short of industry forecasts for the 2015/16 growing season, increased investment in seed development programmes and infrastructure upgrades should improve output over the coming years, according to the Oxford Business Group, a London-based economic research group.

“Crop production for the 2015/16 growing season, which spans October to September, reached 690,000 tonnes, although this fell short of the 850,000-tonne projection made by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), the state promotion and oversight agency,” the Oxford Business Group (OBG) said in a statement received by the Ghana news Agency here.

The statement said yields from both the main harvest and the secondary harvest, which began in late June, were impacted by a prolonged and particularly severe harmattan, a dry wind which blows in from the Sahara Desert, as well as by low rainfall at critical times during the growing cycle.

While most of Ghana’s agricultural output was rain-fed, with the drought impacting production across the sector more broadly, cocoa was particularly vulnerable to the harmattan, which dried seeds and eroded yields.

“In addition, the proliferation of illegal mining also takes an environmental toll, negatively affecting the cocoa segment,” the report quotes Charity Sackitey, the managing director for cocoa and chocolate producer Barry Callebaut Ghana, as saying.

The statement said the latest result is also well below Ghana’s 2014/15 cocoa output, which totalled 730,000 tonnes, and below COCOBOD’s forecast of 1.0 million tonnes, because of an outbreak of black pod disease and adverse weather conditions that year.

It adds that future prospects for the cocoa industry is more bullish and earlier this year, COCOBOD announced it was planning to more than double cocoa output to 1.6 million tonnes by 2026. The board is committed to distributing up to 60 million free hybrid cocoa seedlings per year.

“The new variety is more resistant to pests and diseases, including black pod disease, and able to withstand harsher weather conditions. As of mid-September, the agency had distributed 110 million hybrid cocoa seedlings from its nurseries, according to press reports,” the statement says.