War in Ukraine fuels food crisis in faraway Africa


War-induced price hikes aggravate Africa’s food crisis

Ukraine and Russia are the main suppliers of wheat and fertilizers

Aid agencies hit by rising costs and falling donor funding

By Nelson Banya

HARARE, May 10 (Reuters) – Zimbabwean security guard Edwin Dapi was already struggling to support his wife and four children before conflict 11,000 km (6,800 miles) away in Ukraine spiked world prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizers.

Now his monthly salary of Z$18,000, worth around $55 at the black market rate used in many informal markets, is stretched to breaking point.

At a supermarket in Mabvuku, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital Harare, the 46-year-old worried about his family’s next meal.

He took a 2 liter (0.5 gallon) bottle of vegetable oil, but at Z$990 it was more than he could afford. The same was for a 2 kg (4.4 lb) bag of flour for Z$390.

“I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what it has to do with us,” he said, crossing oil and flour off his bucket list. ‘grocery store.

UN agencies warn that price hikes triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will deepen a food crisis in Africa, where tens of millions have already been pushed into extreme poverty by the pandemic of COVID-19, armed conflict, climatic shocks and economic turbulence.

Last year, sub-Saharan Africa was home to almost two-thirds of the 193 million people considered acutely food insecure worldwide, according to a report by the United Nations Global Network Against Food Crises. States and the European Union this month. .

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has struggled to feed itself since thousands of white-owned farms were seized to resettle black families, a policy championed by Zimbabwe’s late President Robert Mugabe in the 2000s.

More recently, its economy has been strangled by drought and cyclones, power cuts, foreign exchange shortages and runaway inflation.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) estimates that some 5.3 million Zimbabweans, or about a third of the population, are food insecure.

To make ends meet, Dapi said he plans to relocate his family to his home village of Mutoko, about 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Harare. “I have to reduce my rent and my tuition because everything is going up except my salary,” he said.

Across Africa, food insecurity is on the rise. More than 2 million children are at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa, where parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia face their driest conditions in more than 40 years, said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths to donors in Geneva on April 26. Read the full story

In Ethiopia, a civil war has pushed hundreds of thousands of people into starvation conditions. Millions more are at risk in South Sudan, where a war that ended in 2020 caused widespread destruction, compounded by some of the worst flooding in generations. L3N2NW2JD

West Africa is facing its worst food crisis on record, sparked by Islamist insurgencies that have forced millions off their land in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The region has also experienced worsening floods and droughts linked to global warming. L5N2W23Z3

The conflict in Ukraine further aggravates a dire situation.

The war has disrupted shipping in the Black Sea, a major artery for grain and other commodities, limiting exports from Russia and Ukraine to markets such as Africa. Ukraine said the area sown to cereals could fall by about a fifth this year because of the war.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, deputy director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and its representative for Africa, said nearly half of the continent’s 54 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat imports. Russia is also a major fertilizer supplier to at least 11 countries.

“The impact of this war in Ukraine overlaps with a crisis that has already unfolded in some African countries,” Abebe told Reuters. “We have very bleak prospects for the future.”

‘DOUBLE PERIL’

Even before the conflict in Ukraine, food inflation was pushing many African families to the brink. Global food prices soared more than 23% last year, the fastest pace in more than a decade, according to the FAO.

Many of the most vulnerable depend on donations from the WFP, which buys half of the wheat it distributes globally from Ukraine. Rising food and fuel prices have increased its monthly operating costs by $71 million – a 50% increase – since 2019, said Tomson Phiri, a global spokesman.

“WFP faces a double danger: our costs are increasing as the number of hungry people increases,” he told Reuters.

Before the war in Ukraine, the WFP faced a funding shortfall that forced it to cut rations in 17 African countries – including Zimbabwe, Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia – and the gap widened. is being dug as donors turn to the conflict in Europe, Phiri mentioned.

Experts say the impact of grain shortages could be particularly harsh in North Africa, where countries like Egypt import up to 80% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

But even African countries that import little are suffering from rising world prices for key commodities.

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, was shielded from the early impacts because millers there had switched to other suppliers after Russia raised taxes on its exports by wheat last year, said Kennedy Nyaga, president of the United Grain Millers Association.

Kenya has sufficient wheat reserves to last until September, but has already depleted its reserves of maize – its staple food – due to drought, Nyaga said.

The association is lobbying the government to allow millers to import 360,000 tonnes of maize duty-free, saying prices have jumped by around 2,800 shillings ($24.17) per 90kg bag at 4,500 shillings since December.

Kenya’s agriculture ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Finance Minister Ukur Yatani said on May 5 that he had not yet received a request from the millers for duty-free imports.

FIGHT FOR THE BASICS

In Zimbabwe, households are already feeling the pain. About half of its 15 million people survive on less than $1.90 a day, according to Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency.

Households’ difficulties in procuring food worsened when the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe raised the prices of wheat flour and staple maize flour by around 15% in March, citing soaring prices worldwide linked to the war in Ukraine.

The FAO says Zimbabwe imports most of its wheat from the Black Sea and Baltic regions, with Russia and Ukraine accounting for nearly a fifth of imports last year.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said in March that the government had purchased enough maize and wheat stocks from local farmers in the 2021-21 agricultural year to protect the poor against any food shortages this year. .

But the millers’ association imposed even bigger price hikes in April of 31% for wheat flour and 52% for corn flour.

The group says it is looking for alternative suppliers for at least 155,000 tonnes of imports needed until the next harvest in October.

As fuel prices rose and the currency rapidly devalued, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation soared to 96% in April from 61% in January.

And with fertilizer prices soaring due to the disruption of exports from Russia, many farmers in Zimbabwe are struggling to afford it, just as dry weather is affecting crop yields in some parts of the country.

Fertilizer prices have risen 30% over the past year, according to the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union.

“If fertilizer prices remain at their record highs, it will also dim the outlook for crop yields in the 2022/23 agricultural year,” said WFP Zimbabwe spokeswoman Maria Gallar Sanchez.

Officials from Zimbabwe’s information, agriculture and trade ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Fertilizer company Omnia Holdings OMNJ.J, which operates in many African countries, said prices for potash, ammonia, urea and other essential soil nutrients have risen by 200 to 400% since January 2021.

Small-scale farmers, who account for more than 70% of fertilizer consumption in the region, have been hardest hit, Omnia chief executive Seelan Gobalsamy told Reuters.

Boniface Mutize, who grows maize and soybeans just outside Harare, said he had started making his own fertilizer by mixing cow dung or chicken waste with zinc. But he said he needed ammonium nitrate, which is not produced in large quantities in Zimbabwe.

“Many small farmers will not be able to come back next season to grow their own food,” he said.

($1 = 115.8500 Kenyan shillings)

(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Daniel Flynn)

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