COVID’s Aftershocks: The biggest jump in food prices in a decade

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A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for the latest on the shockingly uneven prospects for post-pandemic economic recovery, the looming inflation crisis, and the tribulations of Nigerian cocoa exporters.

Top news

Fundamental threat: Low-income economies face a “fundamental threat” of being left behind. The OECD this week predicted low-income countries could take as long as five years to return to pre-pandemic growth levels — compared to 18 months for the US. This echoes IMF analysis and World Bank warnings that decades of progress in the fight against poverty are set to be reversed. G7 finance ministers meet this week, and we know some of their advisers read this email: sure, we can be snarky sometimes, but you folks are heroes — please do what you can!

Inflated expectations: Dramatic increases in global commodity prices (including oil and food products) are leading to fears of social unrest in some low-income countries. Producer price inflation hit its highest point since the 2008 global financial crisis, with Bloomberg warning that this could be “profoundly destabilising” for commodity-dependent countries. Since last year, copper and iron ore are up 30%, crude oil is up 40%, and corn futures have increased a whopping 41%. Meanwhile, the UN’s Food Price Index saw cereal prices increase 6% in the last month, with sugar also up 6.8% and vegetable oil up 12%. All in all, a mixed bag for those countries that export commodities but import food. Zambia’s inflation rate jumped to over 23% in May, the highest level in 18 years, on the back of surging meat and fish prices.

Deadliest phase incoming?: The COVID-19 pandemic may be about to enter its deadliest phase yet. Troubling new evidence shows the Delta variant that has been devastating India could be far more transmissible than others. Unless world leaders act now to increase the global supply of vaccines, the spread of such variants could soon be “catastrophic” for countries without widespread immunity (such as most African countries).

Fair shot: These looming economic and health crises can be attributed to (guess what?) vaccines. This week, the number of shots administered globally hit 2 billion. Just 31.5 million were in Africa. ONE’s COVID-19 Africa Tracker shows that so far only 0.4% of doses have gone to people in low-income countries. The OECD warns that all of us remain vulnerable to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants as a result. At ONE, we’ve been screaming from the rooftops about the astoundingly unequal vaccine rollout, (rich countries have 3.5 billion — yes BILLION! — doses to spare). We’re calling for a roadmap to reach global herd immunity.

Hot chocolate: Nigerian cocoa exports are being threatened by a shortage of jute bags caused by the pandemic. Nigeria relies on exports of the jute bags, used to package the cocoa beans, from India and Bangladesh, where production has slowed due to surging case numbers and factory closures. On the subject of chocolate, the FT’s David Pilling looks at how Ghana could get rich(er) if it made chocolate. Cocoa farmers currently take 7% of the $130 billion industry while those that make, sell, and market chocolate take 80%. Watch out Switzerland!

DRC Parliament outbreak: COVID-19 has now killed 32 lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, amounting to more than 5% of its Parliament. Authorities revealed the grim statistic as the country struggles to cope with surging case numbers and the eruption last week of the Mount Nyiragongo volcano.

Third wave: New pandemic restrictions have been introduced in South Africa and Uganda amid rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers. Announcing the measures in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that cases had risen by 31% on the previous week, and 61% on the week before that. As the country heads into winter, it’s not good news.

Better late than never: Burkina Faso received its first batch of doses this week, one of the last countries to do so. The country’s vaccination drive was launched on Wednesday 2 June, with 200 doctors, nurses, and other medical staff receiving the first jabs at a medical site in the south of the capital Ouagadougou. COVAX provided the doses.

Shot in the arm: Donors committed $2.4 billion in funding and 54 million vaccine doses this week at the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) summit. Gavi says the funding will allow COVAX to secure 1.8 billion fully subsidised doses for delivery to lower-income economies in 2021 and early 2022, enough to protect nearly 30% of the adult population in eligible economies. Read a rapid reaction from ONE’s Jenny Ottenhoff. ありがとう to Japan for hosting.

Sinoproval: The World Health Organisation approved the Chinese Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said CoronaVac is suitable for low-resource settings as it is easily stored.

Tripped up: European leaders are still blocking a temporary waiver of the WTO’s Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights related to COVID medicines (TRIPS). More than 100 countries including the US are in favour, arguing it will allow for more countries to manufacture vaccines themselves. Opponents say manufacturing capacity is a bigger problem.

Howlin’ wolf: The world is on the verge of agreeing on the creation of $650 billion in new Special Drawing Rights (a type of reserve asset that can be traded by countries for cash) within the International Monetary Fund. The FT’s influential economics editor Martin Wolf argues that the SDRs — which are mostly allocated to rich countries — should instead be granted to low-income countries. We couldn’t agree more. The G7 are set to receive $282 billion — conveniently roughly the same as the IMF-calculated African financing gap left by COVID.

New deal?: More than 30 European and African leaders called for a “New Deal for Africa.” Fronted by Emmanuel Macron and Cyril Ramaphosa, the statement called for increased funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and large-scale investment in health, education, and climate change. They laid out why $100 billion in SDRs should be used initially to respond to the crisis and then more channelled to sustainable development in the medium term. The chairs of the G7 and G20 (UK PM Boris Johnson and Italian PM Mario Draghi) were conspicuously absent.

Achilles and agamemnon: Boris Johnson faces embarrassment next week just as G7 leaders are set to meet in Cornwall. His ill-advised and likely illegal aid cuts will go to a vote in Westminster, and rebel Conservative MPs say they have enough votes to defeat the government and force increases in 2022. Not before a huge amount of humanitarian and diplomatic damage has been done.

The numbers

  • 614,380: the number of vaccines administered in Africa on 31 May, the highest total yet.
  • 2.5: the total vaccinations per 100 people in Africa as of 1 June. For North America, the figure is 61.4.
  • 51%: of vaccines delivered to Africa have been administered (excluding Morocco). We need urgent investment in health capacity for the roll out.
  • 3,967: average number of daily confirmed cases in South Africa in the week to 31 May.

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