‘People are hungry’: Food crisis begins to hit Africa

Ezra Ngala is an informal construction worker struggling to make ends meet in a slum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. “I’m trying to survive,” he said, explaining that he couldn’t support his wife and four-year-old son.

“In the past few months, there has been a surge in starving people like me. The government says the war in Ukraine is the reason for it all.”

The United Nations, local politicians and charities have warned that a sharp rise in international food and fuel prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left millions more Africans facing hunger and food insecurity this year. Rising prices have exacerbated economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, sparking fears of unrest in the worst-hit country.blockbuster Africa The World Food Program said it faces an “unprecedented food emergency” this year, partly due to the war in Ukraine.

“The conflict in Ukraine [sparked a] This is especially true of rising global prices for fuel, fertilizers, and edible oils, sugar and wheat. This is a major shock to the system,” Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide told the Financial Times.

In a region stretching from northern Kenya to Somalia and much of Ethiopia, as many as 20 million people could go hungry by 2022. food and agriculture organization It has been said that the drought was exacerbated by the aftermath of the war in Ukraine due to the worst drought in four years. According to the FAO, more than 40 million people in the Sahel and West Africa face severe food insecurity this year, up from 10.8 million three years ago.

Before the war, Russia and Ukraine had 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 these two countries for all wheat imports.

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

Responding to the trend, the World Bank said on Wednesday it had approved a $2.3 billion program to help eastern and southern African countries tackle food insecurity.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that consumer prices in sub-Saharan Africa will hit 12.2 percent this year, the highest level in nearly 20 years. In Ethiopia, food prices rose by 42.9% in April compared to a year earlier.

Some people worry about higher food prices Could exacerbate unrest in poorer countries, where food accounts for a higher share of daily spending than in developed countries.

Some 40 countries faced social unrest during the 2007-08 food crisis caused by soaring energy prices and drought in crop-producing regions. More than a third of these countries are located on the African continent.

Even before the Russian invasion in late February, the pandemic had hit economic growth on the continent. “Africa is already battling food insecurity,” said Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the South African Agricultural Chamber of Commerce. “The ability of these African countries to insulate their populations from food price volatility has diminished.”

Map showing lack or lack of rainfall and vegetation in East Africa

There are already some signs of unrest. Earlier this month, landlocked Chad declared a food “emergency”. In Uganda, six activists were arrested for protesting against rising food prices in late May, according to Amnesty International. Rising food prices have sparked street protests in Nairobi since May, with the hashtags #LowerFoodPrices and #Njaa-Revolution – Swahili for “Hunger” Revolution.

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

Jackline Mueni, who bakes cakes for weddings and birthdays in Nairobi, is feeling the pressure. “It’s getting worse and worse,” she said, adding that it was by far the worst of her three years in the business. “Food prices have really skyrocketed in the past three months.”

Wheat Import Share (%) Bar chart showing countries dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat

Edible oil prices in Kenya rose more than 45 percent in May from a year earlier, while flour prices rose 28 percent, according to the World Bank. “It’s the worst time ever. I’m comfortable making money, recovering expenses and making a profit. I’m selling an average of five cakes a day. Now, one or two, if I’m lucky,” Mooney said.

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

“If you suddenly moved to 700 [naira for a loaf of sliced bread]which puts pressure on anyone who gets paid [monthly] The minimum wage is 30,000 naira,” Onyenacho said.

He added that the price of wheat flour meant that in rural areas, people were mixing it with flour made from cassava, an inexpensive root vegetable, because they were “willing to compromise on quality” for everyday edible products such as bread. the cost of. .

Back in Kenya, rising fuel prices mean construction worker Ngala spends about half of his wages on fuel prices. As a result, some dishes became unaffordable.

“We can’t afford basic supplies like cooking oil and cornmeal,” he said, which are used to make local staples Habit, cooked cornmeal dough. “Some people can’t even afford a meal a day.”

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