Tuesday July 12 2011

Food prices likely to remain high in region

By Isaac Khisa

Isaac Khisa Food prices across the east African region are likely to remain high due to low production resulting from low rainfall and high fuel prices, United States Agency for International Development says.

Although improved harvests are expected this month (July), the Agency says high transportation costs of commodities to the markets are likely to maintain prices above the seasonal levels.

“In Teso and Lango sub regions, normal rains are likely to result in average harvests but the marketable surplus of sorghum in these regions are likely to offset deficits in Karamoja,” the Agency says, adding that food prices in West Nile region continue to rise as farmers in Eastern Uganda report good harvests and dropping food prices.

Kenya’s hopes to import maize from Malawi and Zambia to alleviate food crisis; dampened after Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) rejected some 5,000 tonnes on basis that they were discoloured. The duty free maize was to be imported mid last month.

And while the products were not harmful for human consumption, it is alleged that the commodities defied Kebs standards with several parameters that include rotten, decayed and discolored, foreign matter and moisture discontent and insect damage and aflatoxin contamination.

The country’s Ministry of Agriculture currently projects to produce 25 million 90 kilogramme bags of maize in 2011/12 season down from 39.8million in the previous season due to low yields resulting from poor rainfall. Also, farmers abandoned the growing of maize due to lower prices experienced last year in favour of wheat and fruits.

While food shortage in the region is expecting to be short-lived, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says people in developing countries-in which Uganda is inclusive,- will continue to be squeezed by spiraling food prices for another decade.

But Oxfam - another charity organisation- predicts food shortage for the next two decades. In their 2011-2020 Agricultural Outlooks FAO and OECD, a think-tank that tracks economic developments in 34 countries, forecast that real prices for cereals could grow on average by 20 per cent over the coming decade, compared to 2001-2010.

They project that farm output would grow to 1.7 per cent annually over the next decade, down from the 2.6 per cent growth rate of the past 10 years, with meat prices increasing by up to 30 per cent.

“While higher prices are generally good news for farmers, the impact on the poor in developing countries who spend a high proportion of their income on food can be devastating,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurri says. The increasing erratic weather and price speculation are blamed for a spike in foodstuff prices over the past years.

A severe drought in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan caused wheat prices to spiral, driving up the cost of bread and animal feed, while falling stocks caused sugar to reach a 30-year high in February.

Oxfam, however, says the world’s poorest people, who spend up to 80% of their income of food, will be hit hardest in the next two decades. The charity says the world is entering an era of permanent food crisis, which is likely to be accompanied by political unrest and will require radical reform of the international food system.

The charity projects international prices of staples such as maize to rise by as much as 180% by 2030, with half of that rise due to the impacts of climate change.

A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.

Hunger to bite on
Over 44million people are currently under abject poverty globally, according to World Bank. “We are sleepwalking towards an age of avoidable crisis,” says Oxfam’s chief executive, Barbara Stocking.

“One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone. The food system must be overhauled.”
For that, Kenya has opened door to genetically engineered crops, seeking people to produce or trade in genetically mortified materials but only after getting a written consent from the regulator- National Safety Authority.

Food Aid agencies have also launched multimillion-pound appeals to address amounting humanitarian emergency in the east and the horn of Africa. Oxfam launched its biggest ever appeal for Africa last week , seeking £50 million to help three million people.

The British government also announced that it was giving £38 million emergency food aid to Ethiopia, following a warning from Josette Sheeran, the World Food Programme executive director that “desperate hunger” loomed across the Horn, “threatening the lives of millions”.

For Somali refugees arriving in neighbouring Ethiopia, the rates of severe malnutrition are as high as 23 per cent, according to Oxfam. Oxfam spokesperson in Nairobi, Alun McDonald, recently said the figures were the worst the agency had seen since the early 90s. At least 500 people are believed to have died in Somalia over the past few months of nutrition-related illnesses, he said.

“We are not yet at a stage where large numbers of people are dying. But things could get even worse in the coming months as the next rains are only due in October.”

It is estimated that up to 1,000 Somalis a day are also streaming across the Kenyan border to Dadaab, already the largest refugee settlement in the world, with 367,000 residents.

Overwhelming figures
Over 2.5 million people require food aid in Somalia; and 3.2 million in Ethiopia. In Uganda over 600,000 people are in dire need of assistance, and in Djibouti 120,000. In Kenya, over 3.5 million people in the country’s arid areas need assistance.

cap: One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone. file pHOTO