Food prices hit record high, says UN

ROME – Food prices such as grains and vegetable oils hit their highest levels on record last month, threatening millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere with hunger and malnutrition, it said on Friday. the United Nations.

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. The index hit its highest level since its inception in 1990 in February.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said Russia’s war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in the price of grains, including wheat and other such as oats, barley and corn. Together, Russia and Ukraine account for about 30% and 20% of world wheat and maize exports, respectively.

Although predictable given February’s sharp rise, March’s figure “is truly remarkable,” said Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s markets and trade division. ‘Agriculture. “Clearly, these very high food prices require urgent action.”

The largest price increases were for vegetable oils: this price index rose 23.2%, driven by higher figures 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 had created harvest 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,” Schmidhuber said.

Soaring costs are prompting some countries to suspend imports, seek new suppliers or dip into local stocks, although these are not long-term solutions, said Erin Collier, an economist at the United Nations. for food and agriculture.

“It’s basically kind of a deterrent request,” she said. “It can only last for a while. Wheat is a staple food.”

Soaring food prices and disrupted supplies from Russia and Ukraine have threatened to worsen food shortages in countries in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia where many people already didn’t have enough to eat.

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.

The UN has warned that prices could rise much further.

This is bad news for the problem of world hunger. According to analysis released last month by the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit think tank whose funders include Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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 are facing problems such as rising fuel and fertilizer costs exacerbated by war, as well as drought and supply chain disruptions.

In the Sahel region of central and western Africa, disruptions from the war in Ukraine have added to an already precarious food situation caused by covid-19, conflict, bad weather and other structural problems, said Sib. Ollo, Senior Researcher for 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 almost 30% in many places in this region due to the supply disruption we are seeing caused by a crisis in Ukraine,” Ollo 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 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is developing a proposed mechanism to alleviate import costs for poorer 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.

The problems will also drag into the next season. Ukraine planted its wheat months before the start of the war, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations expects that at least 20% will not be collected due to the destruction, limited access to fields or a lack of resources for harvesting. Russian production could also be affected by the war, he said.

“Looking ahead to 2022-23, we are already seeing signs that production is going to be reduced in Ukraine,” Collier said. “How much they are able to export really depends on how long this conflict lasts.”

Information for this article was provided by Nicle Winfield of The Associated Press and Megan Durisin of Bloomberg News (WPNS).

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