Soaring food prices threaten many people with starvation worldwide as food-importing countries continually face challenges brought about by the ongoing multiple crises. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that 222 million people will be at risk of acute food insecurity in 2022 and, unless urgent action is taken, about one million of these may face “catastrophic conditions”.
Multiple factors, such as armed conflicts, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate shocks, have driven up food prices since 2018, aggravating food insecurity on a global level. The situation was further exacerbated when Russia started the war against Ukraine at the beginning of 2022. Food-importing economies are currently recording dramatic rises in food prices with those countries that import a major share of their food from Ukraine being affected the most. Tension in the food market has been further escalated since food exporting countries have adopted protective measures, pushing food prices up even higher.
According to a recent World Bank release, as of September 2022 domestic food price inflation, measured as a year-on-year change in the food component of a country’s Consumer Price Index, remains high globally compared to May of this year. Inflation levels have grown in 85.7% of high-income countries. So far, 88.9% of low-income countries, 91.1% of lower-middle-income countries, and 96% of upper-middle-income countries have declared inflation rates above 5%.
The regions most affected are Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. In 83.1% of 166 countries, food price inflation exceeded overall inflation.
Fig.1. Food Inflation Heat Map (left) and Real Food Inflation Heat Map (right)
Source: World Bank
Zimbabwe tops the list of the countries with the highest food price inflation, recording 340% inflation in nominal terms and 68% in real terms (calculated as nominal food inflation minus overall inflation). Lebanon comes second with 198% in nominal terms and 36% in real terms and Venezuela is third with 109% in nominal terms and 32% in real terms.
Fig.2 Food Price Inflation: Top 10 List
Source: World Bank
Soaring inflation rates globally increase food insecurity around the world. According to an FAO-WFP report, the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity and needing urgent assistance is forecasted to reach 222 million across 53 countries and territories. This number is the highest since the report was first published. About 45 million people in 37 countries are expected to have so little to eat that they will experience severe malnutrition with the possibility of starvation and fatal outcomes. If no action is taken, 970,000 of these people are expected to face “catastrophic conditions” in 2022. The most impacted countries requiring urgent assistance are Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. According to the HungerMap produced by the WFP, overall, across 89 countries, 613 million people cannot afford sufficient food to eat in 2022.
IMF states that around US$5 billion to US$7 billion is required to assist the vulnerable populations in 48 countries who are affected by soaring food inflation rates and a further US$50 billion is needed to end acute food insecurity within one year.