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‘People are hungry’: food crisis starts to bite across Africa

Ezra Ngala, a casual construction worker, struggles to make ends meet in a slum in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. “I’m trying to survive,” he says, explaining that he can’t feed his wife and four-year-old son.

“Over the past few months, there has been a wave of people like me who are starving. The government says the war in Ukraine is the cause of all this.”

The sharp rises in international food and fuel prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have left millions of Africans facing hunger and food insecurity this year, the UN, local politicians and charities warn. The price hikes have exacerbated the economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, raising concerns about unrest in the worst-hit countries. The World Food Program is facing an “unprecedented food emergency” this year, in part due to the war in Ukraine.

“The conflict in Ukraine [sparked a] worldwide price increase of fuel, fertilizer and also edible oil and especially sugar and wheat. This brings significant shocks to the system,” Ahmed Shide, Ethiopia’s finance minister, told the Financial Times.

In an area stretching from northern Kenya to Somalia and large parts of Ethiopia, up to 20 million people could go hungry by 2022, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has said, following the worst drought in four decades. exacerbated by the effects of the war in Ukraine. More than 40 million people in the Sahel and West Africa will face acute food insecurity this year, according to the FAO, compared to 10.8 million people three years ago.

Before the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for double-digit shares of wheat imports to more than 20 sub-Saharan African countries, including Madagascar, Cameroon, Uganda and Nigeria, according to the FAO. Eritrea relies on those two countries for all its wheat imports.

Hunger hotspots chart and map

Even those countries that do not depend on imports from Russia and Ukraine have been hit by rising prices.

Responding to the trend, the World Bank said on Wednesday it had approved a $2.3 billion program to help countries in East and South Africa tackle food insecurity.

The IMF predicts that consumer prices in sub-Saharan Africa will exceed 12.2 percent this year, the highest in nearly two decades. In Ethiopia, food prices rose by 42.9 percent in April compared to the same month a year earlier.

There are concerns that higher food prices could fuel unrest in poorer countries, where food accounts for a larger proportion of daily expenditure than in developed countries.

During the food crisis of 2007-08, caused by a spike in energy prices and droughts in crop-producing regions, about 40 countries were confronted with social unrest. More than a third of those countries were located on the African continent.

Even before the Russian invasion in late February, the pandemic had already affected economic growth on the continent. “Africa has already struggled with food insecurity,” said Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at South Africa’s Agricultural Business Chamber. “These African countries had a diminished ability to protect their populations against fluctuations in food prices.”

Maps showing lack of rainfall and vegetation in East Africa

There are already some signs of unrest. Landlocked Chad declared a food emergency earlier this month. In Uganda, according to Amnesty International, six activists were arrested at the end of May for protesting higher food prices. Rising food prices have fueled street protests in Nairobi since May under the hashtags #LowerFoodPrices and #Njaa-Revolution – meaning ‘hunger revolution’ in Swahili.

“People are hungry, the reality is people can’t afford to keep up with these rising prices. You wake up every day and prices are going up,” said Lewis Maghanga, a local cost-of-living campaigner.

Jackline Mueni, who bakes cakes for weddings and birthdays in Nairobi, is struggling. “It’s just going bad,” she said, adding that in the three years she’s been in business, this was by far the worst time. “In the last three months, food prices have really skyrocketed.”

Bar Chart of Share of Wheat Imports (%) with Countries Dependent on Wheat from Russia and Ukraine

In May, the price of edible oils in Kenya rose by more than 45 percent from a year ago, while flour rose 28 percent, according to the World Bank. “This is the worst time ever. I made money very easily, recovered costs and made a profit. I sold an average of five pies a day. Now, one or two, if I’m lucky,” Mueni said.

Even Nigeria, an oil producer and member of OPEC, has been hit by international food and fuel prices. Africa’s most populous country exports crude oil but is dependent on fuel imports. It is also a major food importer, especially of grains. According to Chibundu Emeka Onyenacho, an analyst with emerging markets bank Renaissance Capital, the bread price in Lagos has risen from 300 naira ($0.72) before the pandemic to 700 naira this year.

“If you suddenly switched to 700 [naira for a loaf of sliced bread]that puts everyone who gets paid the [monthly] minimum wage of 30,000 naira,” said Onyenacho.

He added that the price of wheat flour meant that people in rural areas mixed it with flour made from cassava, a cheap root vegetable, because they were “willing to make concessions” on quality to lower the cost of products eaten on a daily basis. , like bread .

Back in Kenya, the rising fuel price means that construction worker Ngala spends about half his salary on fuel prices. As a result, some dishes have become unaffordable.

“We can’t afford basic things like cooking oil and cornmeal,” he said, the latter to make local staple foods ugali, a cooked cornmeal dough. “There are people who can’t even afford one meal a day.”

Video: Can we avoid climate-related food shocks? † FT Food Revolution

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