Sunday, May 18, 2014

Last Call For A Bitter Cocoatastrophe

Supply shortages from growers, exponential increase in demand of emerging markets, political turmoil in Africa and global climate change affecting harvests are playing havoc with the world's chocolate numbers, and indulging your sweet tooth may soon get a lot more expensive.

Juergen Steinemann, head of Barry Callebaut, the leading supplier of cocoa and chocolate to manufacturers and food professionals, doesn't hide his concern despite the Swiss-based company's current sweet performance.

Barry Callebaut has positioned itself well to benefit from growth in emerging markets, where its sales jumped nearly a fifth last year and now account for a quarter of overall sales.

But if consumers in emerging markets quickly develop a sweet tooth for chocolate, a severe shortage of cocoa beans could develop.

At the current moment consumers in emerging markets eat just 50 grams of chocolate per person per year, compared with European and US consumers who gobble up 10 to 12 kilos per person.

Steinemann said even an increase of average annual consumption per head from 50 grams to two kilos in emerging markets would put a major strain on supplies of the cocoa beans that are the key ingredient in chocolate.

And remember, a third of the world's cocoa bean supply comes from Ivory Coast, making an exploitable bottleneck for speculators.

The average size of cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast is just two or three hectares five-seven acres), with most farmers having had little formal agricultural training and using techniques handed down to them by the parents.
"Producers can much improve their yields if they remove old bad fruit, the bad leaves with some kind of disease," said Steinemann. "It's all very simple things to do, it's gardening as you do in your garden."

Fertiliser use is currently scant and could also help in achieving the project's goal of of doubling yields from 400 to 800 kilos per hectare in Ivory Coast by 2020.

"It will be easy to get farmers to return to cocoa if we help them obtain better yields, better quality and thus better profits," said Janvier.

Barry Callebaut doesn't hold out much hope however for genetically-modified cocoa, which Steinemann said doesn't suit the taste as well as health concerns of consumers in Europe, still the biggest market.

The tight supply situation has made the cocoa market attractive for commodity speculators.

"I was very angry, but the fact is that you can't keep them out," said Steinemann.

So yes,  all indications are that cocoa is going to go up, up up.  Chocoholics, beware.

Sunday Long Read: Eric Holder And The Subtle Knife

Attorney General Eric Holder's commencement speech at Baltimore's Morgan State University yesterday was astounding as he spoke to the crowd at this historically black university about Brown v Board of Education, the civil rights movement, and the subtle, institutionalized racism that still exists in America today.  It's your Sunday long read, and it's worth diving into.

Over the last few weeks and months, we’ve seen occasional, jarring reminders of the discrimination – and the isolated, repugnant, racist views – that in some places have yet to be overcome. These incidents have received substantial media coverage. And they have rightly been condemned by leaders, commentators, and citizens from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But we ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents – on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter – we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.

These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done – because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines. They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.

Nor does the greatest threat to equal opportunity any longer reside in overtly discriminatory statutes like the “separate but equal” laws of 60 years ago. Since the era of Brown, laws making classifications based on race have been subjected to a legal standard known as “strict scrutiny.” Almost invariably, these statutes, when tested, fail to pass constitutional muster. But there are other policies that too easily escape such scrutiny because they have the appearance of being race-neutral. Their impacts, however, are anything but. This is the concern we must contend with today: policies that impede equal opportunity in fact, if not in form.

To hear the Attorney General of the United States of America admit this in any speech is nothing short of amazing, and yet he is absolutely correct.  And yes, no discussion of institutionalized racial bias can be complete without discussion of the incarceration industry in this country, and discussion of voter suppression.

For instance, in our criminal justice system, systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common. One study released last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission indicated that – in recent years – African-American men have received sentences that are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. Another report showed that American Indians are often sentenced even more harshly. The Justice Department is examining these and other disparities as we speak – and taking a variety of steps to ensure fair sentences that match the conduct at issue in individual cases. Like a growing chorus of lawmakers across the political spectrum, we recognize that disparate outcomes are not only shameful and unacceptable – they impede our ability to see that justice is done. And they perpetuate cycles of poverty, crime, and incarceration that trap individuals, destroy communities, and decimate minority neighborhoods.

And until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, African Americans’ right to the franchise was aggressively restricted based solely on race. Today, such overt measures cannot survive. Yet in too many jurisdictions, new types of restrictions are justified as attempts to curb an epidemic of voter fraud that – in reality – has never been shown to exist. Rather than addressing a supposedly widespread problem, these policies disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans, Hispanics, other communities of color, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly. But interfering with or depriving a person of the right to vote should never be a political aim. It is a moral failing. In recent years, thousands of Americans, the pride of our nation, have given their lives – and deal even today with the scars of war – so that hopeful, striving people who live continents away could proudly hold up their purple fingers after voting in a truly democratic process. America is now 50 years from Freedom Summer. And we must not countenance, within our own borders, practices that would make it difficult or impossible to exercise the right for which so many have given so much.

This is why I deeply respect Eric Holder, and this is why he is despised so much by the right.   This is why I harp so much and so often on voting rights and implore you, the reader, to exercise your right to vote.  There's an entire political party dedicated to make it as difficult as possible to vote in a representative democracy.  It is a core belief and key plank in their platform.  And the nation's top cop recognizes how pernicious and corrosive that is, and is working to stop it.

Republican Sneak Attacks

Mississippi Republicans will be voting in the June 3rd primary to determine if Sen. Thad Cochran merits replacement by Tea Party challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.  So far Cochran seems to be weathering the attack from his right flank fairly well, but if this story can be traced back to McDaniel, the primary is over and Cochran will win in a landslide.

A Pearl man who runs a political blog is accused of sneaking into a nursing home where U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran's wife is bedridden and photographing her, then posting the image in a video political "hit piece" on the internet.

Madison Police arrested Clayton Thomas Kelly, 28, of Pearl on Friday night on a charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He's being held on a $100,000 bond.

Kelly is accused of sneaking into St. Catherine's Village in Madison, where Rose Cochran has resided since 2000, suffering from progressive dementia and now bedridden.

Donald Clark, attorney for Sen. and Rose Cochran, said the Cochrans' "privacy and dignity have been violated."

"We became aware of an unauthorized picture, posted on the internet, of Mrs. Cochran, taken literally in her room by her bedside at St. Catherine's," Clark said. "Sen. Cochran retained my law firm on this matter, and we looked at various legal options. We notified the proper authorities, which in this case is the city of Madison Police Department."

Clark said St. Catherine's is also conducting an internal investigation.

It doesn't matter what McDaniel does at this point.  Distancing himself from Kelly is still going to leave an awful taste in voters' mouths, and screaming that Kelly is somehow a Cochran plant when Cochran was up by double digits makes him look even worse.

Nope, this race is pretty much over, and I'm trying to figure out why any Tea Party douchebag would go to such ridiculous lengths to try to win in what is obviously the most stupid plan imaginable.

Oh wait, I answered my own question.
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