Bolivia Fights Locust Plague Threatening Corn, Sorghum Harvests
Bolivian farmers and government officials are fighting a locust plague threatening corn and sorghum harvests, just as agricultural areas were starting to recover from the South American country’s worst drought in a quarter century.
The locusts, first reported in late January in Bolivia’s eastern grains belt, have affected around 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of crops and 500 producers, said Vicente Gutierrez, president of a corn and sorghum producers group.
Government authorities and farmers were preparing on Friday to fumigate 300 hectares of crops, with the ultimate goal of spraying some 17,000 hectares and preventing the plague from spreading and endangering the food supply.
“This fight will not be short,” said Reinaldo Diaz, president of Bolivia’s oilseed and wheat producers’ association. “We’re trying to identify where the eggs are, where the nymphs are – those are the initial stages of the plague and where we can control it most efficiently.”
The plague follows a severe drought in Bolivia that prompted controversial water rationing, conflicts between miners and farmers over aquifer use, and slashed agricultural harvests, requiring a sharp increase in imports.
Recent rains have relieved Santa Cruz and inspired optimism for this year’s crops although drought continues to afflict the main city of La Paz.
For the moment, the 1,000 hectares affected by locusts represent only a small fraction of the 100,000 hectares planted with grains in Santa Cruz department.
Bolivia, normally self-sufficient in grain production, had to import more than 100,000 tonnes of corn worth $21 million in 2016, largely from Argentina, according to the private Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade. The country also imported 2,000 tons of sorghum worth $5 million.
Argentina, the world’s No. 3 corn exporter whose output has been rising since corn export taxes were slashed in late 2015, had sent experts to assist the fumigation effort, Bolivian producers said.
“They have lived with this since 1920; we are learning how to combat this problem,” Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said after flying over affected areas.
Producers in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s wealthiest areas, have for years lobbied the government to lift export restrictions and liberalize regulations on the use of genetically-modified seeds, which they say will help produce crops that are resistant to plagues and adverse climate events.
Promised Trump Tax Plan Boosts Stocks
U.S. stocks “melted up” Friday as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the Dow Jones industrial average, Nasdaq Composite Index and Russell 2000 Index posted all-time closing highs on continued upward momentum from President Donald Trump, who promised a “phenomenal” announcement about his tax plan in the next two to three weeks.
Industrial stocks, led by defense/aerospace companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin, outperformed on the week. Crude oil also helped lead the charge amid output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which in turn boosted energy stocks.
The momentum looks as if it could continue. “Broad market sentiment is showing some signs of excessive optimism, which could act as a near-term contrarian warning sign,” analysts at LPL Financial said in a research report. “These are only near-term concerns, though, as we still aren’t seeing the type of over-the-top sentiment seen at major market peaks.”
One of the bigger challenges with the Trump agenda has been predicting how his administration will prioritize policy efforts. Of particular interest are the competing priorities of health care overhaul and tax reform, especially with the run-up in equities. Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. President Gary Cohn is leading the effort to craft the tax overhaul, according to a White House official.
Trading week ahead
The Federal Reserve moves back into the spotlight with a slew of speakers on the circuit, including Chair Janet Yellen, who will give her semiannual testimony to the House Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST.
Key economic data include the January Consumer Price Index (CPI), Retail Sales, Leading Indicators, Housing Starts, and other industrial and manufacturing reports. The earnings calendar is starting to wind down, with mostly cable and technology names reporting.
DRC Cancels Illegal Logging Licenses
The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo says it is canceling two illegal logging licenses following an investigation by the environmental action group Greenpeace.
The Greenpeace probe found that in September 2016, then-Environment Minister Robert Bopolo Mbongeza authorized the two logging concessions, which covered more than 4,000 square kilometers. One permit went to an adviser of President Joseph Kabila, and the other went to a parliamentarian from the ruling party.
But the DRC introduced a moratorium on logging concessions in 2002 in a bid to protect the world’s second-largest remaining rainforest and the livelihoods of the 40 million people who depend on it. The forest covers much of northern DRC, as well as parts of five other countries in the Congo Basin.
Irene Wabiwa Betoko, forest campaign manager at Greenpeace Africa, told VOA that her organization discovered these two illegal awards and asked for a clarification from the government.
Atis Kabongo Kalonji, who was appointed environment minister in December as part of a DRC government reshuffle, insists his ministry is remedying the situation.
Kalonji told VOA on Wednesday that in response to Greenpeace’s revelations, he could inform the Congolese public and the forestry operators that these licenses were now canceled. He said he would soon sign a ministerial order confirming the cancellations and would put in place a mechanism to prevent future violations.
Greenpeace says judicial action against offenders is necessary to stop recurring violations of the moratorium. A month before awarding the licenses in September 2016, Bopolo had canceled three other licenses that his predecessor awarded in 2015. Those, too, were uncovered by a Greenpeace investigation.
Greenpeace also is urging suspension of a new $200 million program to protect the rainforest, the Central African Forest Initiative, until the group can complete a comprehensive analysis of the activities being funded. Wabiwa said Greenpeace wanted to make sure donors’ money would not add to the chaos that exists in the forestry sector. At the moment, she said, the necessary safeguards are not in place.
Kabongo told VOA that the DRC’s international partners could rest assured his ministry would not permit illegality.
Fitch Ratings: Trump Administration Poses New Risk to Global Economy
One of the major U.S. credit ratings agencies says the Trump administration represents a risk to international economic conditions and could alter global sovereign credit fundamentals.
The Fitch Ratings agency says risks have increased because U.S. policy predictability has diminished under Donald Trump, raising the prospects of unanticipated policy changes that could have global economic consequences.
The economic implications include the possibility of disruptions to trade relations, reduced capital flows and limits on migration and remittances, all of which could lead to heightened currency and financial market volatility.
But Fitch says parts of Trump’s agenda could be positive for growth. That includes the president’s promise to boost infrastructure investment, decrease regulations and cut taxes. Fitch says a lot will depend on whether those policies lead to bigger deficits or expand the U.S. debt.
All told, the balance of risks points toward a less benign outlook, given the administration’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its desire to renegotiate established trade deals with Canada and Mexico. Much could still change, but Fitch says the aggressive tone from the White House is likely to make negotiations or compromise with other countries more difficult.
Countries most at risk from increased U.S. unpredictability are those with close economic ties that are now under scrutiny because of perceptions of unfair trade arrangements or exchange rate practices. They include Canada, China, Germany, Japan and Mexico.
Fitch says that, due to the size of the U.S. economy and its integration in the global supply chain, any actions Washington takes to limit trade in one country are bound to have effects on other countries.
Delta CEO Announces Job Growth Plan After Meeting With Trump
Delta Air Lines has announced plans to hire as many as 25,000 workers over the next five years.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement Thursday that the Atlanta-based company is growing its ranks as it expands and upgrades its hubs at several of the nation’s airports. Bastian’s statement was released after he and other airline CEOs met with President Donald Trump at the White House.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the 25,000 figure includes a combination of growth and backfilling attrition, but Delta didn’t specify the breakdown. Delta currently has about 80,000 employees.
Likely referring to competition from Middle East carriers, who receive subsidies from their governments, Bastian said the hiring could be contingent on the support of the government in establishing “a level playing field.”
Malawian Vintner Finding Success that Boosts Community
In southern Africa, business is booming for a popular Malawian winery, which makes Linga fruit wine. Linga is made from guava, plums and even some local flowers. The winery’s owner has been expanding into international markets while giving back to his community. For VOA, Lameck Masina has the story from Lilongwe.
Caribbean Sets Record with More Than 29 Million Visitors
Caribbean tourism officials say the region received a record number of visitors last year as arrivals topped 29 million. But they say they expect a slight drop this year because of the uncertainty surrounding actions that U.S. President Donald Trump might take.
The majority of last year’s visitors came from the U.S., although the region also saw an 11 percent growth in visitors from Europe and the United Kingdom.
The secretary general for the Caribbean Tourism Organization said Thursday that the growth was uneven. Hugh Riley said some islands saw no increase while others recorded a 19 percent jump.
Officials said the Caribbean also received a record 26.3 million cruise ship arrivals.
In 2015, some 26.3 million people visited the Caribbean.
Mine Bosses Say Transparency Will Not Be Clouded by US Rule Changes
The expected demise of transparency regulations for minerals and oil companies listed in the United States will not cloud the global drive for financial clarity in extractive industries, company executives told Reuters at an Africa mining conference.
Efforts to shine a light on payments such companies make to foreign governments are considered key to eliminating graft, conflict and the so-called resource curse — the distressingly common failure of less developed countries to translate mineral wealth into wide prosperity.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has begun dismantling such transparency requirements.
Republican-controlled Congress last week repealed one such rule and Trump also plans to issue a directive ordering suspension of another that requires companies to disclose whether their products contain “conflict minerals” from a war-torn part of Africa.
But companies with European Union and Canadian listings — or which work in countries that have signed up to the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) — still have to abide by strict disclosure rules, executives say.
“Over half of our members would fall into this category,” the chief executive of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which represents 23 leading mining companies, told Reuters.
Companies in this category include goliaths such as Rio Tinto and Anglo American, ICMM chief Tom Butler added.
Butler was critical of the Trump administration’s actions, but said they would not derail the broader global push for increased transparency.
“It’s disappointing because overall the global trend is in the other direction. The train has left the station,” said Butler.
“It is driven by investors and other stakeholders and the desire of the industry to maintain its social license to operate. One way to maintain that is for everyone to see that the taxes and other payments the mining industry makes are applied sensibly to the development of the country.”
Nick Holland, chief executive of South African bullion producer Gold Fields, which has a secondary U.S. listing, said that companies are not about to start altering their behavior.
“We’re going the other way irrespective of the legislation. We’re not going to suddenly start doing deals with illegal miners to buy their gold,” he said.
That view is also supported by Vedanta Chief Executive Tom Albanese, who said that transparency builds trust.
“It allows for Vedanta to have a richer conversation with host governments around the world and makes the job of the chief executive easier in terms of engaging with host governments and stakeholders, which is one of the biggest challenges a mining CEO faces right now,” he said.