Global food prices at 6-year high set to keep rising, says FAO

*The United Nations economist says food costs will probably rise further this year, and it’s bad news for consumers whose incomes have been hurt by the COVID-19 crisis, and adds to concerns about global food security affected by conflicts and weather shocks

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As a result of adverse weather, conflicts in several places across the world, and the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, global food prices reached a six-year high in December and are likely to keep rising into 2021, adding to pressure on household budgets while hunger surges around the world.

A United Nations (UN) gauge of food prices is reported to have jumped 18 percent since May 2020, as adverse weather, government measures to safeguard supplies, and robust demand helped to fuel rallies across agricultural commodities from grains to palm oil, Bloomberg report said.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), prices will likely climb further.

Report further indicates that the spike threatens to push up broader inflation, making it harder for central banks to provide more stimulus to shore up economies, while stirring memories of food-price crises a decade ago.

Thus, the development is said to be bad news for consumers whose incomes have been hurt by the COVID-19 crisis, and adds to concerns about global food security that’s being affected by conflicts and weather shocks.

This is especially true for the poorest countries having to contend with limited social safety nets and purchasing power, according to the FAO.

Abdolreza Abbassian, Senior Economist at the FAO, said: “We do at this point see more factors pushing up global food prices.

“Food inflation is a reality. While people have lost income, they are as we speak going through a tremendously difficult hardship.”

Meanwhile, global food prices have jumped to a six-year high, corn and soy futures rallied to six-year highs as drought threatens crops in South America at a time of surging Chinese demand, while palm oil ─ used in about half of all supermarket goods ─ is near a 10-year high.

Protectionist measures are also propping up markets, with Argentinian farmers planning a protest strike after the government suspended corn-export licences, while wheat giant Russia will curb grain exports from mid-February to tame food inflation.

Abbassian stated that commodities priced in dollars, often seen as a hedge against inflation, should remain supported as the greenback falls further this year.

Besides, an economic recovery in some parts of the world will probably fuel consumer spending and food demand, with weather risks and export restrictions from some grain suppliers aiding prices in the short term.

Weather concerns, government intervention and strong exports to China, for instance, could push agricultural markets higher this year, according to Rabobank International.

Soy prices have become expensive enough that the world will need to ration demand, Joe Stone, head of crop merchant Cargill Inc.’s agriculture supply chain and corporate trading, said recently.

Report added that the FAO’s food price index has risen for the past seven months, with annual prices capping the highest average in three years.

Still, costs remain well below peaks in 2008 and 2011, when soaring prices caused political and economic instability around the world and grain-export bans tightened supply.

“Commodity price inflation is very real, but we’re still nothing like a decade ago.

“I am reasonably confident that it’s not going to lead to big things as per a decade ago. But still, COVID has the potential to upset things in terms of flows of goods, in terms of access to labour,” said Tim Benton, Research Director in emerging risks at Chatham House, in London, United Kingdom (UK).

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