Grain shortages could affect large parts of Africa

A head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Program (FAO) said an existing food crisis in Africa was worsening.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel is deputy director of the program. He said the war in Ukraine was to blame.

“We have a very grim Outlook for the future,” he said of the food supply in some African countries. He noted that about half of the continent’s 54 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat. And over 11 of the countries import fertilizers from Russia.

Even before the war in Eastern Europe began in February, food prices in Africa were rising. The FAO said the cost of food staples increased by 23 percent over the past year. That’s faster than any year of the last 10.

Many African nations depend on supplies from the World Food Program. WFP’s Tomson Phiri said the cost of the program is rising as more people need help.

Grain costs in North Africa are rising because these nations import a lot from Ukraine and Russia. In other parts of Africa, people can no longer easily buy cooking oils made from soy, corn and sunflower seeds.

It is becoming difficult for Edwin Dapi from Zimbabwe to feed his wife and four children.

Dapi was looking for vegetable oil in a grocery store in Harare. The 2 liter bottle costs about $2.76. His job earns him about $50 a month.

A 2-kilogram sack of flour costs more than $1, Reuters reported.

Looking at the prices, Dapi said: “I keep hearing that it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what that has to do with us.”

Existing food crisis

Africa is already facing food shortages due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, military conflicts and poor growth conditions due to climate change, experts say.

Along with the East African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan, Zimbabwe is among the African countries that are struggling to feed their people. In West Africa, military conflicts in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria have triggered a food crisis. Western nations are also struggling with flooding and droughts.

Kenya briefly felt safe from rising prices after it secured grocery deals with several countries last year. Kenya made the change when Russia increased export taxes. Kennedy Nyaga of Kenya’s United Grain Miller’s Association said Kenya should have enough wheat to last by September. But he was already running out of corn, also known as corn.

Maxwell Hwayo, 52, shops at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

The association is asking the Kenyan government for permission to import 360,000 tons of maize without paying import taxes or duties. The group said the price of corn has risen about 60 percent since December.

Zimbabwe up close

A closer look at Zimbabwe shows the potential for a long-term food crisis as it is not as well prepared as Kenya. Food production has declined over the past 20 years due to changes in farm ownership, economic problems such as inflation and drought.

People there are already poor, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, with about half of the country’s 15 million people living on less than $2 a day. They have struggled even more since March when the country gets grain miller increased wheat flour and corn prices by 15 percent, noting that food prices had risen due to the war in Ukraine.

The FAO said Zimbabwe gets about 20 percent of its wheat supply from Russia and Ukraine.

While the government says there is enough corn and wheat for this year, the Millers’ Association approved another price hike in April. The group said they were looking for more grain so there could be enough by October’s harvest.

The rise in grain and fuel prices is being passed on to ordinary people in Zimbabwe, who see it as inflation.

People shop at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

People shop at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

During the growing season, Zimbabwe’s farmers depend on fertilizers for a healthy crop. But the price of fertilizer is about 30 percent higher than last year.

Maria Gallar Sanchez of the World Food Program said if fertilizer costs remain high it will reduce production in Zimbabwe this year.

A company that sells fertilizers across Africa said its costs have increased by 200 to 400 percent since January 2021.

Boniface Mutize is a farmer near Harare. He said many farmers are trying to make their own fertilizer from animal waste. But it doesn’t work as well as chemical fertilizers.

He said many small farms will not be able to grow their own food in the next year.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on Associated Press coverage.

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words in this story

grim – adj. Provoke feelings of sadness or worry

bracket n. an important food that is eaten a lot

drought – n. extremely dry conditions affecting an area

miller – n. a person or company that produces flour from grain

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