Thursday, 16 March 2017

Africa's food price woes

The announcement this week by the United Nations that over 13 million people in Africa face starvation in what it calls the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War is a reminder of continuing failures in food production across the continent. The UN's warning focuses on the war-torn areas of north-east Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan but Africa's food crisis extends way beyond those borders. In fact, in many African countries food prices are driving up the inflation rate and pushing down living standards to a politically dangerous level, according to an important new monograph from the London-based Africa Research Institute.

Many government statisticians omit food and fuel prices from their 'core' inflation data because they are so volatile. This means the problem of spiralling food prices is gravely under-reported.

Drought is fuelling food price inflation in southern and East Africa: by 16.5% in South Africa, 26% last year in Zambia, over 40% in Angola, 18.8% in Uganda, 33% in South Sudan and 70-90% in Somalia. The exception is Ethiopia, formerly stricken by famine. Its government now has a much stronger development focus and has kept food price inflation well under 10%.

Governments could do much more to end this suffering. Apart from boosting incentives and extension services, such as supplying seeds and fertilisers to farmers, governments should cut tariffs, and greatly improve transport links and storage facilities.

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