Barry Callebaut cocoa
Photo provided by Barry Callebaut.

If weather and disease concerns weren’t enough for the upcoming cocoa bean harvest in Ivory Coast, then the Ebola epidemic surely provides a real what-if fear — one that’s sending the price of cocoa beans soaring.

Ivory Coast’s western region borders Liberia, which has been battling an outbreak of the Ebola virus since March 2014. In the five most affected countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal and Nigeria — 5,864 people have been infected and 2,803 have died. Although Liberia’s borders have been closed, with the exception of certain crossings points, the border between Liberia and Ivory Coast can be called porous at best.

In reviewing challenges facing the cocoa farmer during an American Association of Candy Technologists presentation Tuesday in Lincolnshire, Ill., Kip Walk, corporate director of cocoa and sustainability, Blommer Chocolate Co.,  pointed out the infrastructure of Ivory Coast’s western region was similar to Liberia’s — not fully developed. That, in turn, would hinder containment of an Ebola outbreak.

Such an outbreak would certainly create an interruption of the cocoa crop flow, with the main harvest looming in the coming few weeks.

“At the minimum, it would certainly spark a jump in the market if Ebola were found in either the Ivory Coast or Ghana,” Walk told the audience.

Moreover, as a recent Wall Street Journal article noted, “even a small number of Ebola cases in Ivory Coast could have a sweeping impact.”

Given the lack of infrastructure in Ivory Coast’s western border region, which makes the logistics of selling and transferring beans more complicated, placing a quarantine on the area would immediately choke off supplies to the country’s ports, where cocoa is stored and eventually transferred onto ships.

At press time, cocoa beans were trading at $3,325 per metric ton. Kevin Kerr, president of Kerr Trading Co., which manages about $250 million in cocoa, was quoted in the same Wall Street Journal article as saying prices could escalate 20 percent more if Ebola cases were discovered in Ivory Coast.

In August, Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate processor in the world, changed the location of its annual managers meeting, which was to take place in Ivory Coast in October, to Davos, Switzerland, citing concerns about the Ebola virus.