The rising cost of food.
The cost of food is rising worldwide, including in Africa. The benchmark food price index (FAO) rose 2% between December 2011 and February 2012. Food commodities also jumped in the first three weeks of March, a worrying omen that food prices will increase again.
Overall, the food price index averaged 215 points in February 2012, approximately 1% more than the January's revised figures. The hike was predominantly the result of higher cereals, sugar and oil prices. In contrast, dairy prices dipped slightly.
The global rise in food prices has been driven by several factors, and is best analysed by looking at dynamics affecting the prices of individual categories of foodstuffs. For example, the cost of cereal has increased because of weakening supplies of wheat and heightening anxiety over the impact of cold weather on harvests in Europe. Growing demand for imports in Asia and poor crop yields in South America has also driven up the price of maize. Disappointing production levels of palm oil have also increased the oils/fats price index. And the hike in sugar prices is due to poor weather conditions in Brazil, which is the largest producer in the world, although rampedup production in Russia, Thailand, the EU and India prevented a further spiralling of prices out of control.
In Africa, specifically, food prices are also rising, again due to a convergence of variables. In West Africa, cereal prices have increased markedly because of reduced harvests in Sahelian countries in 2011, the region which supplies West Africa.
The fall in output has been largely driven by lack of rain during the cropping season and pest infestations. The dramatic effect on prices throughout the region is clearly documented - in Nigeria, the price of maize and sorghum was 40% higher than a year earlier in October 2011. In Chad, the prices of millet and sorghum were 37% and 51% higher respectively. In Mauritania the price of wheat was 17% higher.
In East Africa, cereal prices are also high and in countries where worries about harvest prospects are growing, they are spiralling further. In Uganda, the price of maize increased from October to November 2011, despite steady production levels. This is because production has been low in neighbouring countries, so export demand has heightened. In Sudan, the price of sorghum has also jumped because of bad weather - lack of rain seriously impacted upon the 2011 harvest.
The drought in Eastern Africa has exacerbated food prices in the region. It has had a particularly severe impact economically on southern and southeastern Ethiopia, where pastoralists have suffered; hundreds of thousands of cattle deaths have been reported, causing the price of meat and dairy to rocket.
Moreover, there is rising concern that climate change could cause the price of food to further increase - scientists claim that climate change could double food prices by 2030.
Source: FAO - Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.