People queuing for food in Africa: Nutritious food is unaffordable for millions.
Photo: © Stosun/Shutterstock

“High food prices are hunger’s new best friend”

Pandemic job losses and high food prices push food out of reach for millions, WFP warns. In 2021, WFP is undertaking the biggest operation in its history, targeting 139 million people worldwide.

High food prices, driven by conflict, economic fragility and the impacts of La Niña, are making nutritious food unaffordable for millions of families already struggling to cope with income losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned in July 2021.

In April already, WFP pointed out that extreme upsurges in food prices, partly caused by measures to contain the spread of coronavirus, are leading to food insecurity and hunger (Rural 21 reported). The World Bank has estimated that the pandemic could push as many as 97 million people worldwide into extreme poverty by the end of 2021.

“High food prices are hunger’s new best friend. We already have conflict, climate and COVID-19 working together to push more people into hunger and misery. Now food prices have joined the deadly trio,” said WFP Chief Economist Arif Husain. 

High food price hotspots in Middle East and Africa

Latest food price data from WFP’s Market Monitor shows that the average price of wheat flour in Lebanon - where economic turmoil has accelerated over the last year - was 50 per cent higher in March-May 2021 than in the previous three months. Year-on-year, the price has risen by 219 percent. Meanwhile, in Syria the price of cooking oil has increased by 58 per cent over the same time period, and by a staggering 440 per cent year-on-year.

But there are also high food price hotspots in Africa. In Mozambique, which is ravaged by conflict in the north of the country, the price of cassava flour went up by 45 per cent in March-May 2021 compared to the previous three months, WFP’s data shows.

On international markets, after rising for 12 straight months, food prices dipped slightly in June according to the Food Price Index of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The index stood at 124.6 in June, just below the peak of 136.7 in 2011. Meanwhile, over the last three months the cost of a basic food basket has gone up by more than 10 per cent in 9 countries where WFP works.

More people need food assistance while food assistance costs are rising

Countries more likely to experience high food price inflation are those that depend on imports for food, those where climatic or conflict shocks could disrupt local food production, and those suffering from macro-economic fragility – with the Middle East witnessing some of the highest price increases. In many countries, currency depreciation has further driven up local food prices, affecting people in places such as Zimbabwe, Syria, Ethiopia and Venezuela.

For WFP, high food prices have two effects. Firstly, they drive up the number of people around the world who need food assistance. Secondly, they increase the cost of buying the commodities needed for food assistance operations. In the first four months of 2021, WFP paid 13 per cent more for wheat than it did in the previous year.

A record 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021 – a 74 per cent jump from 2020, driven by conflict, economic shocks, natural disasters, the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19, and now food price hikes. 


Read more at WFP website

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