The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said Friday the food price index rose a record 12.6% from February to March, in part due to shocks from the war in Ukraine.
"Prices for staple foodstuffs such as wheat and vegetable oils have been soaring lately, imposing extraordinary costs on global consumers, particularly the poorest," FAO Director General Qu Dongyu told the organization's council.
He warned that vulnerable consumers and countries face decreasing purchasing power because of increasing food costs and rising fuel prices.
Qu said fertilizer prices are also going up, which could lead to decreased use and lower crop yields.
The Food Price Index, which was created in 1990, tracks the prices of cereals, vegetable oils, meat, dairy and sugar.
FAO Director of Trade and Markets Division Boubaker Ben Belhassen said the price of cereals, vegetable oils and meat hit all-time highs, while sugar and dairy prices also rose significantly. The index has been rising steadily throughout 2021, in part due to the impact of the COVID pandemic.
He said the price hikes are due to a combination of factors, including adverse weather, higher energy prices and transportation costs, higher fertilizer prices, and strong international demand.
"This has driven prices already before the war in Ukraine," he told reporters from Rome. "Disruption to exports due to the conflict in Ukraine has exacerbated the already difficult situation putting further upward pressure on prices."
FAO says expected export disruptions and losses from Russia's invasion of Ukraine have also rattled the market.
Russia and Ukraine account for about a third of global wheat exports, 20% of maize and about 80% of sunflower oil exports. FAO says 50 countries rely on Moscow and Kyiv for at least 30% of their wheat. Some, like Egypt and Lebanon, receive more than 70% of their wheat from the two warring nations. The conflict's impact is likely to be felt across much of the world.
One bit of good news, rice prices stood largely unchanged from February and are 10% below prices from one year ago.