Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cowpea and Cocoa

Cowpea (black-eyed pea) is one of those wonderful nitrogen-fixing plants that improves soil quality after it's harvested. Cowpeas are high in protein. They also happen to be quite tolerant of a wide range of temperature and rainfall. Africa produces 5.2 of the 5.4 million tonnes of cowpeas worldwide and researchers are working to protect it from its many pests to increase household food security and farm income - most cowpea is currently grown for subsistence.

Public/private partnerships are trying to market black-eyed pea bread (cowpea flour, wheat flour, and peanut butter) as a cheaper, nutritious alternative to all-wheat bread, but the volume is still pretty small. Cowpea flour is only really replacing about 15% of the wheat flour - bread needs the wheat gluten to rise properly - but somehow reduces the final price by 40%. As with replacing gas with corn, cowpeas look a lot more attractive when wheat, rice, and maize prices are high.

Cocoa production has flatlined over the last 10 years in Cote d'Ivoire, the world's largest cocoa producer, largely because the civil war that split the country between rebel north and government south has halted investment and the trees are beginning to show signs of their age. Chocolate companies have mostly tried to sort through increased price volatility by offering smaller chocolate bars (hidden price increases) and using less cocoa (lower quality). They are also diversifying production away from one volatile country. Ghana, the #2 cocoa producer, is trying to take advantage with a financing deal 25% larger than last year's. It seems that companies, however, are trying to diversify out of the region altogether into Indonesian and Vietnamese cocoa.

In other African hunger news, a USAID project in Southern Sudan has been having some success in what was once the world's hungriest town. Primarily the $2 million has been spent hiring young men to build fences and infrastructure to enhance government capacity and security. The increase in paid employment has reduced hunger and the hope is that there will be longer term benefits in terms from reducing conflict.

And, at best tenuously related to most of this, more on WalMart's South African acquisition ambitions, political analysis of the DRC's decisions to temporarily halt all artisanal mining (TiA calls it "unintended" consequences, but the analysis says anything but), and a report on an entrepreneur in a Malawi refugee camp. "I hope that this installation in the Perspectives of Poverty project will help to ... show people as whole human beings, not merely victims of tragedy."

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