By Rabah Arezki, Former Chief Economist and Vice President at the African Development Bank, Former Chief Economist of the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa Region and Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School &Mahmoud Mohieldin UN Special Envoy for Financing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
The world’s breadbasket is being wrecked by war. Ukraine and Russia account for 30% of global wheat and barley exports and are leading exporters of other grains. The two countries are also the source of nearly 70% of the world’s sunflower oil exports, while Russia accounts for 13% of all crude petroleum exports. As the conflict in Ukraine rages and sanctions on Russia escalate, food and energy prices – which were rising even before Russia invaded Ukraine – are spiking in countries far away from the front lines, with devastating implications for the world’s most vulnerable communities.
By Paul Akiwumi, Director, UNCTAD Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes
This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.
The International Monetary Fund has projected a deep coronavirus-induced global recession, which threatens a nearly 4% drop in world GDP and could drag the GDP of African economies into a fall of about 1.4%, with smaller economies facing a contraction of up to 7.8%. This decline is mainly a result of export adjustments affecting primary commodity exporters and associated tax revenue losses. This in turn, reduces governments’ capacity to extend the public services needed to respond effectively to the crisis. Overall, UNCTAD estimates a regional average of about 5% in public revenue losses in Africa. Total merchandise exports are expected to contract by about 17% in 2020. These losses will have repercussions on Africa’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063. With at least 60% of the African population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods and access to food, any trade-related distortions to the sector can threaten the food security of the continent’s poor. In addition to the impact of extreme climate shocks on agricultural productivity, there is a strong positive correlation between economic recession and food insecurity in Africa. Despite the continent’s huge resource endowments (including a wide availability of arable land, and a young, growing labour force, among other factors), the continent’s agricultural production alone, hampered by distribution, access, and affordability challenges, is insufficient to meet its food security needs. Continue reading “COVID-19: A threat to food security in Africa”
Rural youth constitute the majority of the youth population today in most developing countries, and their number keeps growing. Most of them are low educated, engaged in low-value added farming, and struggle to find better jobs to escape poverty and hardworking conditions. Only a tiny proportion of rural youth want to keep their jobs, and few work in high-skilled occupations. What is becoming increasingly clear is that rural youth are turning their backs on subsistence agriculture; they have high expectations, do not want to farm like their parents and are lured by the thought of better jobs in urban areas or abroad. As a result, many rural youth end up working in urban areas in low-productive informal activities.
What could break this cycle is growing local and regional demand for processed food from a rising urban middle class in many parts of the developing world. This represents an untapped opportunity to achieve the triple objectives of decent job creation for rural youth, food security and sustainable production. In Africa alone, domestic demand for processed food is growing fast, more than 1.5 times faster than the global average between 2005 and 2015. These trends offer huge opportunities for developing food systems geared toward local and regional markets, much larger than for global markets.
After the 2007-08 crisis, we got into the bad habit when discussing food prices of focusing almost exclusively on volatility and overlooking the question of the level of prices. Of course, reasons were good for this; between February 2007 and February 2008, world food prices jumped 60%. These increases combined with local factors had dramatic effects, particularly in West Africa, where millions of households already had insufficient income to cover their basic nutritional needs. Today, according to OECD and FAO projections, food prices are expected to remain stable in the medium-term. This is a good time to re-examine some important questions.
Are food products cheap in sub-Saharan Africa?
The question may seem surprising, as food is no doubt cheaper in the poorest countries. This is the first thing that any tourist would tell you, and it is confirmed by statistics. Sub-Saharan countries do indeed have the lowest prices in absolute terms (see figure). African food products are therefore much more affordable…for the European consumer. What about for the African consumer? Continue reading “Food prices must drop in Africa: How can this be achieved?”
When prices of staple food crops soared in international markets in 2007-10, it was a wakeup call for many world leaders to take action. In view of millions of families being pushed into hunger, the G20 decided to create the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) to combat excessive volatility by enhancing transparency and policy co-ordination in international food markets.
Since its launch in 2011, AMIS has provided more reliable and timely assessments of global food supplies by working closely with the main trading countries of staple food crops. This has created a more level playing field for all market actors to make informed decisions. Even more important have been achievements in the area of policy dialogue. When maize prices spiked in 2012, for example, regular exchanges among the key producing countries helped avoid a repeat of hasty policy action, such as export bans that had exacerbated market turbulences in the past. Through AMIS, it seems, the world is better prepared to minimise the risk of future food price crises.