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A food crisis of ‘biblical proportions’

June 29, 2020, 10:14 AM UTC

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Good morning.

COVID-19 could bring a food crisis of “biblical proportions” to Africa, which is already suffering from changing weather patterns and a plague of locusts, World Food Program head David Beasley told the UN recently. Beasley’s warning has prompted action from at least one company—Yara, the global fertilizer giant based in Norway (and featured on Fortune’s Change the World list.)

Yara CEO Svein Tore Holsether told me Friday the company has committed $25 million to provide food to a million people in the region. Africa is a small part of Yara’s business—less than 5%. “From an economic and reputation standpoint, it is probably better not to be in Africa at all,” he said. “But our mission is to responsibly feed the world and protect the planet.” With that as the company’s purpose, how can starvation in Africa be ignored?

Some might ask whether Africa’s problem is better left to the WFP and other aid organizations. But Holsether believes public-private partnerships are essential. “The focus of foreign aid is to help the immediate problem. But unless we do something to address the longer term,” problems will keep reoccurring. By providing both premium fertilizer and a digital knowledge platform to as many as 250,000 smallholder farms, Holsether thinks Yara can help triple their yields and find markets for their products. He is encouraging other global companies to support the effort. If you are interested in participating, reach out to him:

Separately, while Juneteenth has passed, the effort to make it a paid holiday in the U.S. continues. Teneo CEO Declan Kelly told me last night that he’s teaming up with the advocacy group Global Citizen and celebrities including Pharrell Williams and Ellen DeGeneres to launch a pledge drive, starting this morning, to get U.S. companies on board. “This requires leadership from CEOs to make it happen,” Kelly said. Companies already committed, according to Kelly, include Airbnb, Adidas, HP, The J.M. Smucker Co., Starbucks and Under Armour.

Tomorrow is also the final day to nominate someone for Fortune’s 40 under 40 list. Submit your suggestions here.

More news below.

Alan Murray


10 million 

Coronavirus cases have topped 10 million worldwide, and the U.S. numbers are rising fast, with more than 42,000 cases on Saturday alone. Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona are responsible for much of the recent rise, helping the U.S. account for an estimated quarter of total worldwide cases. Plus, those numbers likely understate the true scale of the pandemic. WSJ

EY faces Wirecard Questions

EY is bracing for difficult conversations from its clients after Wirecard, the German payments company it was in charge of auditing, filed for insolvency protection last week amid an escalating financial fraud investigation. FT

Facebook Boycott

The organizers behind a Facebook advertising boycott say the movement is about to go global. They're asking companies to pull their worldwide ads on the platform, not just their U.S.-based advertising. That movement is already picking up steam, with companies including Verizon and Unilever onboard. The campaign is intended to pressure Facebook into stricter standards over hate speech. Reuters

Shale bankruptcy 

Chesapeake Energy, which devised the playbook for exploiting the U.S. shale fields, has filed for bankruptcy. The company has a dramatic history, expanding fracking dramatically in North Texas, taking on a high debt load, and expanding into real estate, from a church to a shopping centre. It was also facing the plunge in commodities prices due to the pandemic. It's the second shale company to do so—Whiting Petroleum filed earlier this year. Fortune


Nuctech pressure

Several U.S. agencies are attempting to pressure European governments into uprooting Nuctech, a state-controlled Chinese company baggage screening company that is expanding across the continent's airports and ports. The effort bares some similarity to pressure over other governments' contracts with telecomm giant Huawei. WSJ

'More idiotic rubbish' 

The U.K. has altered its two-week quarantine measures for those arriving in the country—giving arrivals from France, Spain and Greece (and perhaps others) a pass. That's drawn another rebuke from the budget carrier Ryanair, which called the plan 'more idiotic rubbish'. The carrier is expected to operate 1,000 flights from July 1. Bloomberg

Outdoor Voices CEO

Outdoor Voices, the formerly ascendant athleisure brand, was struggling even before the pandemic. Financial losses and employee revolts over the management style of founder Ty Haney had resulted in her ouster, writes Fortune's Emma Hinchcliffe, and then COVID-19 hit. Now, the company has a new CEO, Ashley Merrill, with the mandate to turn the business around. "Outdoor Voices was part of that period of time when businesses were approaching business from a growth-at-all-costs perspective," she told Emma. Fortune


When the financial crisis hit in 2008, SafeLite, the windshield maker, managed to come out strong. Earlier this year, the company was celebrating the ensuing years of growth—and then the pandemic hit. Fortune's Shawn Tully talked to CEO Tom Feeney about how the company got back to pre-pandemic levels even as some states are locking down once again. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Katherine Dunn.