Project Number #2

Year Without a Winter but don’t Count on Higher Corn Prices, Not Yet

Drought conditions in the Midwest could mean higher prices for corn than in the previous year, but don’t count on the record warm temperatures and lack of snow as a fait accompli.

The United States Department of Agriculture, in its crop production report for February, called this winter ‘ year without a winter’. USDA explained that this winter, other than Florida and the Pacific Northwest, temperatures have stayed above normal across the U.S. Commodities prices respond to weather patterns that fall outside the norm.

Commodity Traders and farmers are speculating on what the above normal temperatures and lack of snow cover in the Midwest mean for the price of corn, which traded last June at a record high price of eight dollars a bushel.  Farmers use the amount of snow cover during the winter to predict the level of moisture in the soil during the planting season. Already, there is speculation of a drought this spring.

“The seriousness of the dryness or lack of moisture cannot be determined till the planting season, which is April, May and June,” said Anthony Prillaman of National Agriculture Statistics Service, a division of United States Department of Agriculture.

A drought in the spring will hurt corn crop development and lead to a lower production figure, much less than the 313 Million metric tons harvested in the U.S. in 2011. Normally, a lower production of corn in 2012 than in 2011 will mean higher prices in 2012, and vice versa.

The price of corn is influenced by production across the world and not just the Midwest.

EU, South America and Central Asia had record crops or are planting record crops. The European Union will be exporting corn. Brazil, the second largest exporter after the U.S., just increased acreage planted for its winter corn. Ukraine will harvest its biggest corn crop in history this year. Also, China had record corn harvests.

 Lee Gauss, a grain trader in Chicago, thinks corn will stay the same or trend lower because of the bumper crop in other key producing regions in the world.

“The report last week was neutral for beans but a little bearish for corn. The record price of eight dollars achieved last year boosted farmers income, and I will expect that farmers across the world will dedicate more acreage to corn to take advantage of the price,” Gauss said.

The weather pattern in the US does not tell the complete picture for forecasting the price of corn on the world wide commodities market. Corn producers in EU, Asia and South America compete with the US in the same export markets. Even though the US is the biggest exporter, prices are driven by total worldwide production.

Bumper corn production overseas could mitigate the impact a drought in the Midwest has on corn prices. Traders and farmers betting on a drought this spring should temper their enthusiasm for a rally in corn prices.


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former presidents of Ghana and Brazil will receive the World Food Prize for their successful efforts to reduce by half the number of people in their countries who suffer from hunger and poverty, the prize’s foundation announced Tuesday.

  • John Agyekum Kufuor served as Ghana's president from 2001- 2009. Kufuor and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, will receive the World Food Prize for their successful efforts to reduce by half the number of people in their countries who suffer from hunger and poverty.AP

    John Agyekum Kufuor served as Ghana’s president from 2001- 2009. Kufuor and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, will receive the World Food Prize for their successful efforts to reduce by half the number of people in their countries who suffer from hunger and poverty.

John Agyekum Kufuor served as Ghana’s president from 2001- 2009. Kufuor and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, will receive the World Food Prize for their successful efforts to reduce by half the number of people in their countries who suffer from hunger and poverty.

John Agyekum Kufuor, who served as Ghana’s president from 2001- 2009, and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who was Brazil’s president from 2003-2010, were named this year’s World Food Prize laureates during a ceremony in Washington.

The Des Moines, Iowa-based foundation each year awards the prize to honor efforts to lessen global hunger. Kufuor and Silva will share in the $250,000 prize, which was established by Iowa native Norman Borlaug, the winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to increase food production in developing nations with the use of hybrid crops. He died in 2009.

The foundation will officially award the prize to Kufuor and Silva during the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines in October.

Under Kufuor’s leadership, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to reach the United Nation’s Millennium project goal of reducing by more than half the number of people in his country going hungry by 2015.

According to the World Food Prize Foundation, hunger in Ghana dropped from 34 percent to 9 percent and the number of people living in poverty was reduced from 51.7 percent in 1991 to 26.5 percent in 2006.

During his two terms as president, the foundation said Kufuor initiated economic reforms that strengthened public investment in agriculture and food production. The nation’s cocoa production doubled between 2002 and 2005 and production of food crops, such as maize, cassava, yams and plantains, as well as livestock production, increased significantly.

A school feeding program was initiated that guaranteed one locally produced meal a day for students ages 4 to 14. The program reduced chronic hunger and malnutrition and improved school attendance. By the end of 2010 more than 1 million students were participating in the program, the foundation said.

“l am overjoyed that in this time of increasing food crisis around the world, l should be adjudged as deserving of this great award for the role l played in boosting agriculture in my country, Ghana, during my tenure as president,” Kufuor said in statement prepared before Tuesday’s announcement.

He told the Associated Press after the announcement was made that it’s an acknowledgment of what can happen when governments make reducing hunger a priority.

“Ghana is very proud of this,” he said in a telephone interview from London.

He called his country’s achievements “remarkable,” saying “both I and my country are very honored and pleased about this honor.”

Silva also initiated a school feeding program that now serves 47 million students in all grades of Brazil’s public school system. Malnutrition in Brazil fell nearly 62 percent between 2003 and 2009, the World Food Prize Foundation said. The school program was part of Silva’s Zero Hunger program, which provided greater access to food, strengthened family farms and increased school enrollment.

The program also provided cash aid to poor families, guaranteeing more than 12 million people a minimum income and access to basic goods and services. Distribution of food was through public schools, restaurants, assisted living facilities, day care centers and other organizations.

Under Silva’s leadership, Brazilians living in poverty dropped from 12 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2009, with 93 percent of children and 82 percent of adults eating three meals a day, according to the foundation.

“I am convinced that what was important during my administration was the result of the partnership with the Brazilian population,” Silva said in a statement. “I am really moved to know Brazil was chosen as a country that achieved good policies regarding agriculture and hunger.”

Silva was traveling in Mexico and not available for an interview following the announcement.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, said in a statement to The Associated Press that Kufuor and Silva “have set a powerful example for other political leaders in the world.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


It is Time for IMF to Select a Managing Director from a Developing Country

The International Monetary Fund has 187 member countries, and, all candidates, regardless of the country of origin, need consideration for the Managing Director (MD) position and not revert automatically to a European.

Since its formation in 1947, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has had ten managing directors, and all were Europeans. Four of these MDs came from France. It is time for the major powers within IMF, the United States and European Union, to embrace new leadership, which means to choose a new MD from a developing country.

The IMF is a fund set by member nations for the members as a system for economic cooperation towards macro-economic stability. The members draw from the fund when necessary to meet certain economic imbalances. Before the additional capitalization to $750 billion in 2009, the fund had a capital of about $280 billion.

For the period of 2008 and 2009, things looked bleak for USA and some advanced economies in Europe. IMF faced excessive demand for the fund’s financial support by some members in Europe, particularly Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland. It became imperative for IMF to seek an infusion of additional capital.

The developing countries, especially Brazil, Russia, India and China collectively called the BRIC, and Japan contributed most of the capital needed to boost the IMF. The developed countries were hurting, but the developing countries were flush.

A new world economic order was ushered; the so-called rich nations had to be bailed out. The European Union (EU) members like the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, Portugal and Spain could not contribute as much capital as the BRIC; yet the four BRIC countries get about 10.68 percent of the IMF votes.

The developing countries were responsible for the additional funds that IMF dishes out to its members. Europe is the biggest borrower from IMF and the developing countries are the biggest lenders to IMF.  If this is the case, then, why does the IMF continue to revert to Europe the position of managing director?

This unfair assignment of voting rights relies on the size of worldwide economies after World War II. Economic power has shifted since WW II from Europe and America to the developing countries, especially the BRIC, but the IMF retains the old structures to the benefit of Europe and America.

The 27 states that together form the European Union (EU) hold over 33 percent of the votes in the IMF and the United States holds about 17 percent. As long as EU and America unite behind a candidate, it does not matter the qualifications of other candidates, the one supported by EU and America wins the MD spot. America plus EU hold over 50 percent and all the other members combined hold less than 50 percent of the votes.

The IMF follows an antiqued system of voting which smacks the democratic processes that America and Europe preaches. IMF has 24 executive directors; one each from USA, France, UK, Germany and Japan. The rest of the memberships is divided into 19 constituencies, each with a director who votes for the constituency represented. The voting powers of the constituencies depend on the economic influence of the countries within the constituency.

China, which is the second largest economy in the world, has 4 percent of the votes, whilst UK has 4.3% and France has 4.52%, but the economies of UK and France combined are less than the size of the Chinese economy. Germany holds another 6.14% of the votes. Well, that is the way IMF does its math of proportional representation.

The IMF is in the process of selecting a new MD after Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) resigned over sexual assault charges in New York for forcing sex with a hotel maid. Three candidates- Agustin Carstens, Christine Lagarde, Trevor Manuel – have emerged.

Manuel is the former finance minister of South Africa. He studied engineering and law. 44 African countries form two constituencies with fewer than 5 percent of the total votes. So just forget an African ever becoming an MD. An African from the continent cannot conjure up enough votes to win the MD spot unless Manuel gets the endorsement of the United States and the European Union.

Carstens comes with an impressive record of accomplishments. He holds a PhD in economics from the prestigious University of Chicago, and the position of Governor of the Mexican Central Bank.  He served for three years as Deputy MD of IMF. One would expect that a former or current deputy MD will get a promotion to fill the vacant MD spot. Unfortunately, Mexico belongs to a constituency of eight countries with voting power of 5%.

Lagarde is the finance minister for France, and its former minister of agriculture. She is the only female finance minister in the Group of Eight (G8) advanced economies, but she is a lawyer and not an economist. Lagarde served as the chairperson of the prestigious international law firm Baker & McKenzie, and she is an expert on trade in Europe. Lagarde belongs to the rich voting bloc within the EU.

What prevents someone with the record of achievements of Carstens is that he is not European.  Some countries in Europe are facing financial problems. Unless IMF bails out Greece and Portugal, they will fall into bankruptcy. IMF needs an economist with experience in dealing with financial crisis, and not a lawyer, at the helm.

In the end, credentials and experience might not matter, but the voting block or country of origin determines if one gets the chance to head the IMF. The current method of selecting the MD of IMF is not fair to the developing countries because of the way IMF assign voting power to its members outside the US, France, Germany, UK, group.

By Kofi Amoabin. Send comments to adansi@inbox.com

Black Women Expo in Tinley Park

Ever wandered into an event where each speaker talked like a millionaire, the Black Women’s Expo in Tinley Park this Saturday was the place. This event was the place to meet aspiring entrepreneurs.

Other than Mr. Darnley Howard, a business consultant, and Ms. Diana Martin, a bank employee looking to break into international trade, the event was devoid of opportunities on imports and exports.

Three years ago, Martin bought a compact disc on international trade and heard about how African countries buy billions of dollars of everything from the United States. Martin lost money on her first attempt, but she is willing to try again. Martin shipped used clothing to Ghana, but she was unable to get the used clothing out of the port.

“My partner was inexperienced, and he thought that, coming from America, I had a lot of money,” Martin said.

Some exporters from United States of America do not factor the cost of clearing goods from the port into their business expense calculations. The bottleneck at African ports, including the port of Tema in Ghana, can be expensive.

“A way to get items out the ports as quick as possible is to ship food,” Howard said. “You cannot lose on shipping rice to Africa.”

Howard explained that imported food gets priority at the ports, because the African governments want to bring the price of food down. Excessive duties and fees paid by importers translate into high cost of food for the most vulnerable.

Companies looking to sell and exhibit their products lined the sides of the auditorium. Some of the entrepreneurs sold dresses, gourmet coffee, and compact discs on real estate investments, children’s book and many others. The number of entrepreneurs in business selling compact discs out-numbered all the sellers in different lines of business at the Expo.

Meeting with Kofa International, Inc.
Mr. Ganiyu A. Dada offers a tour of his Africa Room and declares that African countries cannot meet the stringent financial requirements set by the U.S. government.
Dada, president of Kofa International, talked about his next trade mission to Nigeria and his long record of experience in exporting American-made equipment to Africa. Kofa International ships heavy equipment – tractors, excavators – to Nigeria.
Mr. Dada gave a tour of his Africa Room, which serves as a demonstration room for products that African countries export to USA, and products that American companies export to Africa. The walls of the Africa Room show the interdependency among countries.
The Unite States is the biggest food exporter in the world, and most of the food exports go to the poorest countries in the world. U.S. government agencies finance food exports to Africa. Mr. Dada explained that most African countries have exhausted funds allocated under Exim Bank, which guarantees or insure loans from high-risk countries.
African companies looking to import food from the United States must go to the private sector or the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).
“How many African countries take advantage of CCC programs?” I asked.
“In the past, most African countries got food aid from the US, but the US cannot afford to give away food for free any longer,” Dada said.
The private sector agencies that finance exports to Africa require the African companies to make a 15% cash down payment. Most African companies cannot meet this down payment requirement. The private sector in most African countries does not have banks with such liquidity.
“So how do we solve the food security problem in Africa if African countries cannot find the funds to buy from USA?” I asked.
“Africa must increase production,” Dada answered. “Kofa is shipping a lot of equipment to Nigeria, but Nigeria still needs a lot of food.”
Reported by Kofi Amoabin

Simon Kafando, West Africa Regional Director of Rotary Club speaks in Lincolnshire

Simon Kafando, regional director of Rotary Club West Africa spoke at Linclonshire on programs that the Rotary Club and the Government of Burkina Faso are doing to improve the lives of farmers in Burkina Faso.

As part of his trip, Kafando visited A2M Company of Lincolnshire, a telecom company looking to do business in Burkina Faso. Mikhail Zayats, a corporate officer of A2M Company introduced Kafando.

“Do the farmers need tractors from the US,” Zayatsa asked?

“No,” Kafando answered.

The three exports for Burkina Faso are cotton, livestock and gold. The presentation by Kafando was on the cotton, livestock and corn markets in Burkina Faso. Kafando mentioned that Burkina is expanding corn/maize and livestock exports to Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Niger. Grain and livestock exports have boosted incomes for farmers in Burkina Faso.

 “Most of the farmers are small farmers, and they grow cotton and maize,” Kafando said. “You know they have to eat so they cannot grow only cotton.”

 Burkina Faso exports cotton to China, India and Pakistan, but corn is a consumer staple. Farmers grow cotton to make an income and grow corn to feed their families.

Kafando described the cost incurred by the government in transporting cotton by road to the ports as prohibitive. Burkina Faso is a landlocked country. Because of the war in Ivory Coast, Burkina has to ship cotton through the ports in Ghana, but Burkina Faso and Ghana are not connected by a railway line.

Burkina Faso has a population of 16 million, and about 26% of the population lives in urban areas. The CIA report on Burkina Faso shows that 46% of the population lives below the poverty line. The poverty line is a based on an amount of money needed to support a person in a given country.


By: Kofi Amoabin

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Obama at Notre Dame – Civil Discourse in America

It was an excellent idea for President Obama to accept the invitation to speak at the commencement ceremony at Notre Dame. As president, Obama is the father of the nation and must communicate with all the citizenry, regardless which side of an issue the president favors.

Notre Dame, as a leading catholic institution, meant abortion issues were on the agenda, and Obama favors the woman’s right to choose versus the Catholic Church’s strict opposition to abortion. Obama showed leadership at Notre Dame by first admitting his stand on abortion and then asked for a common ground between the opposing sides.

“Maybe we won’t agree on abortion,” Obama said.

Obama has the excellent ability to take on controversial issues and engage his opponents civilly. Whilst his opponents choose noise and placards, Obama was all about civil discourse. The protestors, some bore placards and others disrupted Obama speech, knew Obama did not just show up at Notre Dame. Notre Dame invited Obama, and he accepted the invitation.

If the protestors had any beef, and they did because of the way they vented their anger, then that anger and frustration must be directed at the host, which in this case is the University of Notre Dame.

The University knew Obama’s stand on abortion. From his campaign for president and his policy of reversing Bush’s era ban on government support for family planning and stem cell research, Obama was a foe to some in the Notre dame community. Despite Obama’s record, which smacks in the face of the protestors, Notre Dame chose Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree.

The invitation and the award given to Obama meant the university itself thinks differently from the protestors. However, the university cannot abrogate the protestors’ freedom of speech or expression.

Just like the university, Obama ignored the protestors and reasoned with those who choose to listen to his words encouragement, that regardless of where we stand on issues and political affiliation we can communicate.

By Kofi Amoabin