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Poor Countries Still Face High Food Prices


Poor Countries Still Face High Food Prices

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The poorest countries continue to face very high food prices, even though prices have dropped elsewhere in the world.

That's according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's new Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report, released prior to next week's World Summit on Food Security in Rome. It says more than 30 nations continue to need emergency food assistance, adding that the world's poorest people spend nearly all of their meager incomes on food.

FAO Senior Economist Liliane Balbi says, "The prices in developing countries remain high – above the levels of what we call the pre-crisis of last year."

Some examples

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"In eastern Africa," she says, "The price of maize in Uganda in October this year is 171 percent higher than two years ago. That is more or less the same situation in Kenya, where prices are 80 percent higher, in Tanzania, etc."

The reasons for the higher prices vary according to region. Kenya has had several consecutive years of reduced harvests. Congestion at the Mombasa port has delayed food imports, while Tanzania stopped some food exports.

"So there is tightness in the markets," she says.

Drought and conflict in east Africa have resulted in about 20 million people needing food aid.

In West Africa, Balbi describes harvesting as "well advanced," bringing a decline in prices. However, a decline in prices from crisis levels does not mean low prices.

"You have, for example, in Nigeria, prices in October for millet…an important maize staple…are 73 percent higher than two years earlier," she says.

Part of that, she says, is due to lower food imports than in recent years.

The FAO report says overall cereal production has declined this year. It says, "Below average rainfall required re-planting in many parts of West Africa and led to livestock losses in Mali, Chad and Niger."

No food riots

During the high of the food crisis last year, there were riots in more than 30 countries, but not this year.

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"To qualify the level of prices, they have declined from their peak, but in most of the cases have stabilized at a level that is much higher than two years earlier. That is not the case of the international prices. So that continues to give concern about food security," she says.

The FAO says food prices also remain high in southern Africa, despite good cereal production this year. There's better news for North Africa, where record wheat production this year followed a diminished crop in 2008 due to drought.

Next week's so-called "Hunger Summit" aims to reach a "broad consensus" on immediate remedies, while boosting investment in agricultural for the long term.

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