Africa's palm oil fallout from Ukraine war

STORY: Thousands of miles from Ukraine's battlefield, Djeneba Belem is frying bean cakes.

She may be far from the conflict, but her stall in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan is not immune to its impact.

The war has wreaked havoc on global commodities markets and for 35-year-old Belem that's meant the price of palm oil - one of her biggest business costs - has sky-rocketed.

‘’Customers complain that the cake has become smaller than before, but we also try to make them understand that it's not our fault, the market has become expensive, we can't buy oil, it's really become difficult.’’

Palm oil is ubiquitous in African cooking.

The continent imported over 7.7 million tonnes in 2019, according to the most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization.

And the tropical commodity is not produced in Russia or Ukraine.

Belem's predicament is an illustration of how shockwaves have rippled through an intricately interconnected global economy.

One factor is that Russia's invasion of Ukraine - which Moscow calls a "special military operation" - effectively removed a huge share of sunflower oil exports.

The two countries account for more than half of global supply.

Thirty miles east of where Belem sells her fried bean cakes, Sylvain N'Cho is inspecting palm seeds.

He's the deputy general manager at this palm oil mill and says the shortage of sunflower oil means people are migrating to palm.

"...and if demand becomes even higher, it is clear that there will be a further increase in the price of crude palm oil. The other problem is that this conflict may cause problems with the availability of fertilizers and therefore ultimately reduce productivity on the plantations."

Ivory Coast happens to be a net exporter of palm oil.

But N'Cho says that hasn't shielded Ivorian consumers against the whims of the international market.

"When there is an increase there, there is systematically an increase on the local market.’’

Tens of millions of Africa have already been pushed into extreme poverty by the global health crisis.

Any change in prices presents many on the continent, like Belem, with difficult calculations.

For her, a 25-liter jug of palm oil has risen in price by more than 30%, and further hikes are expected.

Her income, she says, has been cut in half.

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