By NICOLE WINFIELD – Associated Press
ROME (AP) – Prices of foodstuffs such as grains and vegetable oils hit their highest levels last month, mainly because of the Russian war in Ukraine and the “massive supply disruptions” it is causing to millions of people in Africa and the Middle East threatened with hunger and malnutrition elsewhere, the United Nations said on Friday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations announced that its food price index, which tracks the monthly changes in international prices for a shopping basket, reached an average of 159.3 points over the last month, up 12.6% from February. The February index reached its highest level since its inception in 1990.
The FAO said the war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in grain prices, including wheat and others such as oats, barley and corn. Together, Russia and Ukraine account for about 30% and 20% of global wheat and corn exports, respectively.
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While this was predictable given February’s sharp rise, “this is really remarkable,” said Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s Markets and Trade Division. “These very high food prices clearly call for urgent action.”
The biggest price increases were for vegetable oils: This price index rose by 23.2%, driven by higher quotations for sunflower oil, which is used for cooking. Ukraine is the world’s leading exporter of sunflower oil, and Russia is number 2.
“There is of course a massive supply disruption, and this massive supply disruption from the Black Sea region has pushed up vegetable oil prices,” Schmidhuber told reporters in Geneva.
He said he couldn’t calculate how much the war was to blame for record food prices, noting that poor weather conditions in the United States and China were also being blamed for crop concerns. But he said “logistical factors” played a big part.
“There are essentially no exports via the Black Sea, and exports via the Baltics are also practically ending,” he said.
Soaring food prices and disruptions to supplies from Russia and Ukraine have caused food shortages in countries in the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia where many people are already starving for food.
These nations depend on affordable supplies of wheat and other grains from the Black Sea region to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and cheap pasta, and they now face the possibility of further political instability.
Other big grain producers like the United States, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina are being closely watched to see if they can ramp up production quickly to fill the gaps, but farmers face problems such as rising fuel and fertilizer costs, which were exacerbated by the war. Drought and supply chain disruptions.
In the Sahel region of central and western Africa, the disruptions from the war have added to an already precarious food situation caused by COVID-19, conflict, inclement weather and other structural problems, said Sib Ollo, senior researcher for the World Food Program for western and southern Africa Central Africa in Dakar, Senegal.
“Food and nutrition security in the region has deteriorated sharply,” he told reporters, saying that 6 million children are malnourished and nearly 16 million people in urban areas are at risk of food insecurity.
Farmers are particularly concerned about not having access to fertilizers produced in the Black Sea region. Russia is a world leading exporter.
“Fertilizer costs have increased by almost 30% in many places in this region due to the supply disruption we see caused by a crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
The World Food Program has requested $777 million to meet the needs of 22 million people in the Sahel and Nigeria over six months, he said.
To meet the needs of food-importing countries, the FAO is developing a proposal for a mechanism to reduce import costs for the poorest countries, Schmidhuber said. The proposal requires eligible countries to commit to additional investment in their own agricultural productivity in exchange for import credits to soften the blow.
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