Global food prices surged to a historic high last month on grain and edible oil supply woes brought about by the conflict in Ukraine, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Friday.
“World food commodity prices made a significant leap in March to reach their highest levels ever, as war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils,” the FAO said in a statement.
The FAO’s food price index rose by 12.6% to a record 159.3 points in March against February’s high of 141.4 points, “making a giant leap to a new highest level since its inception in 1990.” The index represents a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities.
The current surge includes new all-time highs for vegetable oils, cereals, and meats, the agency said, noting that prices of sugar and dairy products “also rose significantly.”
The FAO also recently warned that food and feed prices could further jump by up to 20% as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and lead to a surge in global malnourishment.
Russia and Ukraine are the globe’s largest exporters of wheat, corn, barley, and sunflower oil. Ukrainian exports have been stalled, and sanctions placed on Russia may affect its own deliveries as Black Sea ports used to ship grain remain blocked. Industry analysts fear the planting season in Ukraine may also be affected by the current crisis.
The situation could lead to famine and food rioting in poor countries, especially in Africa, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, warned earlier this month. She specified that food imports from the Black Sea region were crucial for the survival of 35 African nations.
Meanwhile, the FAO also lowered the projection of global wheat production in 2022 to 784 million tons from last month’s forecast of 790 million, citing the possibility that at least 20% of Ukraine’s winter crop area would not be harvested. It also cut its forecast of global cereals trade in the current marketing year due to disruptions in Black Sea exports. The agency noted, however, that larger exports from India, the EU, Argentina and the US could somewhat offset the trend.