Food prices highest since records began: United Nations

Food prices highest since records began
Photo: FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri. Workmen at Dar Es Salaam harbour loading bags of wheat on a truck, in Tanzania.

The war in Ukraine led to a “giant leap” in food prices last month, says the United Nations.

Rising costs for basics such as cereal, vegetable oil, and sugar have been revealed in the UN Food Prices Index that tracks commodities. They’re at their highest since records began 60 years ago, jumping nearly 13% in March, following February’s high.

Ukraine is the world’s biggest exporter of sunflower oil, which means the costs of alternatives have also climbed. It’s also a major producer of cereals such as maize and wheat.

The cost-of-living crisis is worrying politicians and has sparked warnings of social unrest across the world.

Global food prices have reached “a new all-time high,” the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on Friday, “hitting the poorest the hardest.”

“It is now more than two years that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact our lives, our health and our economies,” said FAO chief QU Dongyu.

Explaining that the neediest “face greater exposure to the pandemic and are the most affected by rising food and fuel prices,” he pointed out that prices for staple foodstuffs such as wheat and vegetable oils have soared, “imposing extraordinary costs on global consumers, particularly the poorest”.

The conflict has driven up international prices for wheat, maize, and vegetable oils, as the war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through the markets trading in these staples.

The Index tracks monthly changes in the prices of a basket of commonly traded food commodities. Last month’s prices were 33.6 percent higher overall than in March last year.

Driven by soaring wheat and coarse grain prices – largely as a result of the war in Ukraine – the FAO Cereal Price Index was 17.1 percent higher in March than it was just a month earlier.

Over the past three years, Russia and Ukraine combined, accounted for around 30 percent and 20 percent of global wheat and maize exports, respectively.