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I.Coast eyes cassava for its bread as wheat prices surge

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Soaring prices for wheat have triggered concern for bread prices in Ivory Coast, where the baguette is a daily staple
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As wheat prices are driven upwards by the war in Ukraine, bakers in the West African state of Ivory Coast are starting to use locally produced cassava flour to bake bread.

The baguette, the stick of bread that is much loved in the former French colony, is commonly seen as a benchmark of the cost of living.

But Ivory Coast does not produce wheat domestically, instead importing up to a million tonnes of the grain per year, mainly from France.

Surging wheat prices have stoked concern about the impact in a country of 25 million where the average wage is less than 250,000 CFA francs ($400) per month, and which was shaken by a wave of violence less than two years ago.

Both Ukraine and Russia are large wheat producers, and lost harvests and other uncertainties have driven up prices of the global staple.

In response, Ivorian authorities have pegged the price of a baguette at between 150 and 200 CFA francs ($0.25 and $0.30) depending on weight, channelling subsidies worth 6.4 billion CFA francs (about $10 million) to the country’s 2,500 bakeries. 

Bakers, with the government’s support, are also starting to substitute a small portion of wheat flour with flour from cassava, a root vegetable.

Cassava, also called manioc, is Ivory Coast’s second largest crop after yam, with 6.4 million tonnes produced each year.

– ‘New flavours’ –

The cassava substitution plan ticks the boxes for economy and sustainability. But what do Ivorians think?

“Everything has become expensive in the market,” said Honorine Kouamee, a food vendor in Abidjan’s Blockhaus district who was cooking pancakes made of wheat mixed with coconut flour. 

“If we can make bread with local cassava flour it will be better. People are willing to eat local products.”

The national consumers’ confederation has thrown its support behind the cassava substitute.

“It will provide a stimulus for manioc producers and maintain the price of bread,” said its president, Jean-Baptiste Koffi.

But image and taste are important and some bakers are cautious.

“It’s not a done deal,” said Rene Diby, a baker.  

“For Ivorians, bread made with cassava is associated with poor-quality bread. Consumers will have to be made aware of these new flavours.”

The authorities will have to run a promotional campaign, he said.

Cassava is high in starch and is a good source of dietary fibre.

But high proportions of cassava flour lower the mineral and protein content in bread, compared with traditional wheat, a 2014 study in Nigeria found.

Financially, even using just a small portion of cassava flour would provide the government with some relief.

Last year, 10 percent of the national budget of around $16 billion was spent on food imports, despite the country’s fertile soil.

Ranie-Didice Bah Kone, executive secretary of the state-run National Council for the Fight against the High Cost of Living (CNLCV), says it is time to unlock Ivory Coast’s rch agricultural potential. 

“It’s a question of thinking long term, about our food security, it’s a question of thinking about how Ivory Coast will ensure it is less dependent on world prices,” she said.

During a visit to a cassava flour processing plant in Abidjan, she called for immediate measures to increase the supply of local flours, in addition to subsidies for the wheat sector.

– ‘Africanise baking’ –

Concerns in West Africa about dependence on imported wheat are not confined to Ivory Coast. 

On July 19, bakers from across West Africa will meet in Senegal’s capital Dakar to launch an association to lobby for setting a regional benchmark of setting up to 15 percent of local content in bread products.

Using local products in bread could “solve food crises,” said Marius Abe Ake, who leads a bakers’ association.

“We need to Africanise baking to help lower manufacturing costs, fight poverty and avoid damaging unrest.”

Ivory Coast has a history of turbulence.

In 2020 scores died in pre-election violence — an episode that revived traumatic memories of a brief civil conflict in 2011 in which several thousand people were killed. 

In 2008 riots broke out when the cost of rice, milk and meat soared.

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Natural disaster losses hit $72 bn in first half 2022: Swiss Re

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'Secondary' natural disasters like floods and storms -- as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes -- are happening more frequently, according to Swiss Re.
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Total economic losses caused by natural disasters hit an estimated $72 billion in the first half of 2022, fuelled by storms and floods, Swiss reinsurance giant Swiss Re estimated Tuesday.

Though the figure is lower than the $91 billion estimate for the first six months of 2021, it is close to the 10-year average of $74 billion, and the weight is shifting towards weather-induced catastrophes.

“The effects of climate change are evident in increasingly extreme weather events, such as the unprecedented floods in Australia and South Africa,” said Martin Bertogg, Swiss Re’s head of catastrophe perils.

The Zurich-based group, which acts as an insurer for insurers, said the losses were also propelled by winter storms in Europe as well as heavy thunderstorms on the continent and in the United States.

So-called secondary natural disasters like floods and storms — as opposed to major disasters such as earthquakes — are happening more frequently, the reinsurer said.

“This confirms the trend we have observed over the last five years: that secondary perils are driving insured losses in every corner of the world,” Bertogg said.

“Unlike hurricanes or earthquakes, these perils are ubiquitous and exacerbated by rapid urbanisation in particularly vulnerable areas,” he said.

“Given the scale of the devastation across the globe, secondary perils require the same disciplined risk assessment as primary perils such as hurricanes.”

Swiss Re said floods in India, China and Bangladesh confirm the growing loss potential from flooding in urban areas.

Man-made catastrophes such as industrial accidents added on a further $3 billion of economic losses to the $72 billion from natural disasters, taking the total to $75 billion — which is down on the $95 billion total for the first half of 2021.

– Insured losses at $38 bn –

Total insured losses stood at $38 billion: $3 billion worth of man-made disasters and $35 billion worth of natural catastrophes — up 22 percent on the 10-year average, said the Swiss reinsurer, warning of the effects of climate change.

February’s storms in Europe cost insurers $3.5 billion, according to Swiss Re estimates.

Australia’s floods in February and March set a new record for insured flood losses in the country at so far close to $3.5 billion — one of the costliest natural catastrophes ever in the country.

Severe weather and hailstorms in France in the first six months of the year have so far caused an estimated four billion euros ($4.1 billion) of insured market losses.

The Swiss group also mentioned the summer heatwaves in Europe, which resulted in fires and drought-related damage, without providing estimates at this stage.

A warming climate is likely to exacerbate droughts and thereby the likelihood of wildfires, causing greater damage where urban sprawl grows into the countryside, Swiss Re said.

“Climate change is one of the biggest risks our society and the global economy is facing,” said the group’s chief economist Jerome Jean Haegeli.

“With 75 percent of all natural catastrophes still uninsured, we see large protection gaps globally exacerbated by today’s cost-of-living crisis.”

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Stock trading platform Robinhood axes staff

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Stock trading platform Robinhood will cut its workforce by 23 percent
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Robinhood on Tuesday said it is laying off nearly a quarter of its employees as inflation and a crypto market crash cripple activity on the stock trading platform.

Dismissal emails went out to 23 percent of workers, referred to internally as “Robinhoodies,” in a cost-cutting move that the Silicon Valley-based company said will leave it with about 2,600 employees.

Internet giants whose business boomed during the pandemic have taken a hit from inflation, the war in Ukraine, supply-line trouble and people returning to pre-Covid lifestyles.

Robinhood earlier this year cut nine percent of its staff, but that wasn’t enough, chief executive Vlad Tenev said in a blog post.

“Since that time, we have seen additional deterioration of the macro environment, with inflation at 40-year highs accompanied by a broad crypto market crash,” Tenev said.

“This has further reduced customer trading activity and assets under custody.”

Meanwhile, financial services regulators in the state of New York on Tuesday announced that Robinhood’s cryptocurrency unit will pay a $30 million penalty for failing to meet mandatory standards for cyber-security and fighting money laundering.

The failure “resulted in significant violations” of state regulations, said state superintendent of financial services Adrienne Harris.

Flaws at Robinhood Crypto meanwhile stemmed from “significant shortcomings” in management that included failure to foster “an adequate culture of compliance” with banking rules, regulators said.

Robinhood associate general counsel Cheryl Crumpton said the company is “pleased” the matter is resolved in a settlement.

“We have made significant progress building industry-leading legal, compliance, and cybersecurity programs, and will continue to prioritize this work to best serve our customers,” Crumpton said in response to an AFP inquiry.

Robinhood layoffs will be concentrated in operations, marketing, and program management, Tenev said.

“In the short seven years since Robinhood launched to the world, we have adapted to challenges and forced the financial industry to adapt to us,” Tenev said.

“We’ve overcome many obstacles and have emerged from each a stronger and more resilient company,” he said.

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Uber posts quarterly loss, but revenue exceeds expectations

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Revenue more than doubled to $8.1 billion in the three months through June
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Uber on Tuesday reported better-than-expected revenue in the second quarter, fueled by strong demand for the San Francisco-based company’s ride-hailing and food delivery services.

Revenue more than doubled to $8.1 billion in the three months through June — a 105 percent increase. Though it still posted a net loss of $2.6 billion, investors reacted positively: shares shot up more than 12 percent, to $27.58, in pre-market trading.

The company posted $1.8 billion in revenue from its freight operations. It also said the boost in revenue was partially explained by a change in how it accounts for its rides business in Britain. 

Uber notched gains in monthly active platform consumers, gross bookings and trips compared with a year ago, reflecting higher demand but also a higher number of drivers for its signature ride service and food delivery operations.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said both consumers and earners were at “all-time highs.”

“Last quarter I challenged our team to meet our profitability commitments even faster than planned — and they delivered,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Uber primarily attributed its loss to the falling value of its investments in financially strapped companies such as Singapore’s VTC Grab, US self-driving vehicle start-up Aurora and Indian food delivery service Zomato.

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