Food prices such as grains and vegetable oils hit their highest level on record last month, largely due to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the “massive supply disruptions” that it causesthreatening millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere with hunger and malnutrition, the United Nations announced on Friday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said its food price index, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of a basket of basic commodities, averaged 159.3 points the month last, up 12.6% from February. As it stands, the February index was the highest level since its inception in 1990.
The FAO said that war in ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in grain prices, including wheat and others like oats, barley and corn. Together, Russia and Ukraine accounts for about 30% and 20% of world wheat and maize exports, respectively.
While predictable given February’s sharp rise, “it’s really remarkable,” said Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s Markets and Trade Division. “Obviously these very high food prices require urgent action.”
The largest price increases were for vegetable oils: this price index rose by 23.2%, due to higher prices for sunflower oil used for cooking. Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil and Russia the second.
“There is, of course, a massive disruption in supply, and this massive disruption in supply from the Black Sea region has fueled vegetable oil prices,” Schmidhuber told reporters in Geneva.
He said he could not calculate how much the war was to blame for record food prices, noting that poor weather in the United States and China were also responsible for crop problems. But he said “logistical factors” played a big role.
“Essentially, there are no exports via the Black Sea, and exports via the Baltic are practically coming to an end as well,” he said.
Soaring food prices and disrupted supplies from Russia and Ukraine have threatened food shortages in countries in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia where many people were already not eating enough.
These nations rely on affordable supplies of wheat and other grains from the Black Sea region to feed millions who subsist on subsidized bread and cheap noodles, and they now face the possibility of political instability. additional.
Other major grain producers like the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina are being watched closely to see if they can quickly increase production to fill the gaps, but farmers face challenges such as rising fuel and fertilizer costs, exacerbated by war, drought and supply chain disruptions.
In the Sahel region of West and Central Africa, war disruptions have added to an already precarious food situation caused by COVID-19, conflict, bad weather and other structural issues, said Sib Ollo, senior researcher at the World Food Program for West and Central Africa in Dakar, Senegal.
“There is a sharp deterioration in food and nutrition security in the region,” he told reporters, saying 6 million children are malnourished and nearly 16 million people in urban areas are malnourished. threatened by food insecurity.
Farmers, he said, were particularly worried about not being able to access fertilizers produced in the Black Sea region. Russia is a leading global exporter.
“The cost of fertilizers has gone up by almost 30% in many places in this region due to the supply disruption we are seeing caused by a crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
The World Food Program has appealed for $777 million to meet the needs of 22 million people in the Sahel region and Nigeria over six months, he said.
To meet the needs of food-importing countries, the FAO was developing a proposal for a mechanism to alleviate import costs for the poorest countries, Schmidhuber said. The proposal calls on eligible countries to commit to investing more in their own agricultural productivity to obtain import credits to soften the blow.
—Nicole Winfield, Associated Press