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High Food Prices Mean Some Africans Eat Less


Food Prices are rising across Africa’s market places, especially for imported foods like maize, rice and wheat. In response, many African consumers are cutting back on the amount of food they buy. Relief groups fear that eating less could lead to increased cases of malnutrition, especially among children. From Washington, William Eagle reports.

Food prices are climbing in Nigeria, as in other African countries. In the north of the country, drought has contributed to lower crop yields, and the results can be felt in the pocketbook.

In the city of Kano, the Daily Trust newspaper says the prices of rice, maize, beans and millet have shot up by up to 35 percent.

News reports say the situation is so tight that consumers are competing against chicken farmers for the ingredients used to feed livestock, like maize, groundnuts and soya cakes.

Fatima Musa is a housewife in Kano.

"No one feeds his cattle, chickens or pets with grains anymore," she says. "You feed them with the chaff you get from the grains. If there’s even any need to remove the chaff, because right now people even feed on the chaff."

Musa rails against rising costs. She says a medium bag of rice has increased from $29.50 [300 naira] to about $47.25. Tomatoes, red peppers and other vegetables are also higher than usual --- she says three stalks of spinach, now selling for 42 cents [50 naira] is nearly three times its former rate. A bowl of tomatoes is 55 cents.

While Nigerians complain, others Africans have reacted violently.

Food protests have broken out in several countries, including Cameroon, Mozambique, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

In South Africa, labor unions have taken to the streets to protest higher food prices.

In Somalia, internally displaced people have looted trucks carrying food relief. In May [this month], thousands of Mogadishu residents rioted over food inflation. They were also protesting traders’ refusal to honor older currency, which the government had replaced to discourage counterfeiting. The price in the country for maize has more than doubled in the last four months.

Health experts worry that food inflation will lead to malnutrition and hunger. For example, Liberia imports nearly all of its rice, with one bag now costing about US 34 dollars. Nutritionists say that’s enough to feed a family of seven for about two weeks. The problem is that the cost is more than many Liberians earn in a month.

Dr. Susan Sheperd is a nutrition advisor to the Access Campaign for Essential Medicines in Geneva, a part of the relief group Doctors Without Borders.

The Sahel and Central and East Africa…are malnutrition hot spots, with high levels of malnutrition and high rates of children dying. When you add to that rising food cost, you have the potential for a real epidemic of malnutrition. We lived through an epidemic in Niger in 2005 when we saw rises in the cost of the basic grain, millet, and this caused rates of admissions to malnutrition programs to sky rocket.

Milk, groundnuts and oil go into the making of an important food supplement for children called plumpy ’nut. Dr. Shepard fears rising prices for these ingredients could affect the cost of the life-saving drink.

Meanwhile, the NGO Action Against Hunger says nearly 20 percent of the children weighed by nutritionists in Monrovia, Liberia, are suffering from acute malnutrition.

In reaction to the high prices, some in Liberia are resorting to less expensive but starchy staples, such as cassava, yam and plaintain. In Uganda, The Sunday Monitor newspaper notes that in one district many people have little to eat but mangoes.

Many Africans are cutting back on family meals.

Brenda Kerubo is a housewife in Kisumu, Kenya.

She says, "The best thing to do for my family is to reduce meals taken in a day. I may give them a cup of tea with a piece of pancake for breakfast and two cups of porridge for lunch and then I cook beans and maize for supper. We hope prices will soon come down."

International relief for food emergencies also face challenges. The World Food Program says the drop in the value of the dollar combined with high food and transportation prices means there’s far less in the budget for food. The WFP is asking donors for over $500 million dollars to fill the gap.

President George Bush has asked the US Congress to approve $700 million in emergency food aid to poor countries.

In late April, the US government announced the release of $200 million of emergency wheat for the developing world. The administration is also considering other options, including increased support for improved roads and food storage facilities in countries facing food emergencies.

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