As West Africa struggles to contain the economic as well as the human impact of Ebola, Ivory Coast cocoa exporters are raising fears of supply shortages that have driven prices to three-year highs, warning output could drop dramatically if the virus spills into the world's top grower. Ciara Lee reports.
Cocoa harvesting in Ivory Coast. Together with Ghana, it produces around half the world's cocoa supplies. But the two countries lie perilously close to the countries worst hit by the the Ebola epidemic. With harvest now season in full swing, the commodities market is feeling the effects too. Cocoa prices have surged to a three-and-a-half-year high on supply concerns, with exporters worried about what might happen if Ebola were to strike. Jonathan Parkman is co-head of agriculture at Marex Spectron. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JONATHAN PARKMAN, CO-HEAD OF AGRICULTURE, MAREX SPECTRON, SAYING: "Not all of the labour is local, some of it is migrant. The borders in the ivory coast are currently sealed. They are fairly porous, people are therefore worried. It's kind of a bit of a chicken and egg - if you don't have porous borders and the labour force can't migrate, then you might stop Ebola but you won't have people to do the harvesting." Over 3800 people are known to have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The IMF and World Bank say they are ready to do whatever it takes to halt the epidemic. After a slow initial response by the international community, money and equipment are now pouring into West Africa. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JONATHAN PARKMAN, CO-HEAD OF AGRICULTURE, MAREX SPECTRON, SAYING: "Because the world has begun to mobilise its resources into tackling this, and because we are now beginning the cocoa season, I think probably the time for peak risk was probably about a week or two ago, and cocoa prices are probably reflecting that now." In fact, there could be a supply surplus this season, but prices appear to be reacting to worries over what happens next. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JONATHAN PARKMAN, CO-HEAD OF AGRICULTURE, MAREX SPECTRON, SAYING: "Without African cocoa there would not be enough to go round. We are entering the peak harvest period for West Africa ..... This is the most critical time." When cocoa prices last reached these high levels, Ivory Coast was approaching the end of a civil war. But some say fears of a million tonnes of cocoa supply being put at risk appear overblown. Ivory Coast says it's taking aggressive anti-infection measures that its poorer western neighbours were slow to adopt.