Despite good global cereal harvests this year, millions of people in dozens of poor countries are in desperate need of emergency humanitarian aid due to stubbornly high food prices, the United Nations agricultural agency warned in a report released today.
Critical food insecurity is affecting 31 countries and the situation is particularly acute in East Africa, where prolonged drought and mounting conflict have left an estimated 20 million people in need of food aid, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
The latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, published ahead of next week’s World Summit on Food Security in Rome, noted that although international food prices have fallen significantly since their peak a few years ago, wheat and maize prices rose in October and rice export prices are still high above pre-crisis levels.
“For the world’s poorest people who spend up to 80 per cent of their household budgets on food, the food price crisis is not over yet,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem. “It is now a global priority to increase investment in developing country agriculture in order to fight poverty and hunger.”
The report said that in Western Africa cereal production for 2009 is set to decline from last year because below average rainfall forced farmers to re-plant crops in many parts of the region and led to livestock losses in Mali, Chad and Niger.
The dire food situation in the region is worsened by cereal prices remaining well above the levels of two years ago before the hike in food prices, with the price of millet in the markets of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger ranging from 21 to 42 per cent higher, and imported rice between 22 and 46 per cent higher.
In addition, an expected reduction in Nigeria’s cereal production could lead to new price rises across West Africa, the report said.
The FAO report also voiced deep concern over the situation in Eastern Africa as crops and pastures are expected to fail due to poor rains and an increase in armed conflict, resulting in more trade disruptions and continuing high food prices.
Kenya’s maize production is forecast to be 30 per cent down on last year, leaving almost 4 million Kenyans either highly or extremely food insecure, and in Ethiopia the number of people in need of food aid jumped from 5.3 million in May to 6.2 million in October.