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ABIDJAN, March 14 (Reuters) - Cocoa exporters in top producer Ivory Coast expect port arrivals to fall by half to around 20,000 tonnes per week from next week, and to remain at that low level until May or June owing to poor bean quality, they said on Tuesday.
Cocoa arrivals this season so far are up nearly 7 percent since last season, with at least 40,000 tonnes being delivered weekly to Ivory Coast's two ports of Abidjan and San Pedro since February.
But senior officials at four major export companies, who declined to be named, told Reuters they have rejected a growing number of beans due to small size, poor fermentation and mould since mid-February, blaming excessively dry weather.
The officials told Reuters they expect weekly arrivals to fall by half, or to between 20,000 and 22,000 tonnes next week as beans good enough for export were now too scarce. They expected this dip to continue at least until the mid crop is well underway in May or June.
Some companies had already stopped buying new beans and others were planning to stop this week, they said.
"I think the arrivals of 40,000 tonnes a week are over because the beans being delivered are no longer exportable," said the director of an export company in Abidjan.
"The beans are rotten, poorly fermented and with a mould rate that is almost double what is was."
Buyers in the regions of Daloa, Soubre, Man, Vavoua and Bouafle confirmed that some of the beans delivered to exporters in recent weeks had been rejected for their small size.
Bean size is determined by the number of beans per 100 grammes of cocoa, known as the bean count, with a higher figure reflecting smaller bean size.
The Coffee and Cocoa Council (CCC) has fixed a ceiling of 105 beans per 100 grammes of cocoa destined for export during the October to March main crop.
Bean count was at around 100 at the beginning of February, but rose to 115/120 by the beginning of March, buyers said. They expected bean count to be between 115 and 125 until June, when it might fall back to 110/115 if there is rain in April and May.
"The bean count is rising in some areas such as Daloa, Vavoua, Bouafle and even Soubre and Buyo due to dry weather," said the commercial director of an export company in Abidjan.
He said cocoa from those regions was coming in with a bean count of 120 while the average was still 105/110 for beans from Duekoue, Tai and Grabo.
"It has not rained much since January, which means that the pods are getting small and the bean count is rising. At the port of San Pedro, exporters don't want cocoa with a bean count over 105," said Ismael Kante, a buyer in Vavoua. (Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Tim Cocks and David Evans)