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UN: Grain Shortage Could Affect Much of Africa

FILE - Boniface Mutize inspects his maize crop during an interview with Reuters at his farm in Domboshava, a village in the province of Mashonaland East outside Harare, Zimbabwe, March 21,2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo )
United Nations: Grain Shortage Could Affect Much of Africa
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A leader of the United Nations Food and Agriculture program (FAO) said an already existing food crisis in Africa is getting worse.

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

“We have a very grim outlook going forward,” he said of the food supplies 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 fertilizer from Russia.

Even before the war in Eastern Europe started in February, food prices in Africa were rising. The FAO said the cost of food staples rose 23 percent last year. That is faster than any year of the last 10.

Many African nations depend on supplies from the World Food Program. Tomson Phiri of the WFP said the costs for the program are rising as more people need aid.

The cost of grain in North Africa is increasing because those 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.

For Edwin Dapi of Zimbabwe, it is getting hard to feed his wife and four children.

Dapi looked for vegetable oil at a food store in Harare. The 2-liter bottle costs about $2.76. His job pays him about $50 per month.

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

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

Existing food crisis

Africa already has a food shortage, experts say, because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, military conflicts and bad growing conditions because of climate change.

Zimbabwe is one of the African nations having trouble feeding its people, along with East African countries Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. In West Africa, military conflicts in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria have created a food crisis. The western nations are also dealing with floods and droughts.

For a short time, Kenya felt safe from rising prices because it made food 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 until September. But it already ran out of maize, also called corn.

Maxwell Hwayo, 52, shops at a grocery store in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)
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 duty. The group said the price of maize went up 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 gone down over the last 20 years due to changes in farm ownership, economic problems such as inflation and drought.

The people there are already poor, as the country’s National Statistics Agency says about half of its 15 million survive on less than $2 per day. They are struggling even more since March when the country’s grain millers raised prices for wheat flour and maize by 15 percent, noting increased food prices because of the war in Ukraine.

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

While the government says there is enough maize and wheat for this year, the miller’s association approved another price increase in April. The group said it is looking for more grain so there can be enough until the harvest in October.

The increase in grain and fuel prices is being passed on to regular 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 fertilizer for a healthy crop. But the price of fertilizer is about 30 percent higher than last year.

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

A company that sells fertilizer throughout Africa said its costs have increased between 200 and 400 percent since January 2021.

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

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

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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Words in This Story

grim – adj. causing feelings of sadness or worry

staple n. an important food that is eaten widely

drought – n. extremely dry conditions affecting an area

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