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Agriculture - Nutrition | Economy - Development

African food security improving

Futuro Africano, 4 June - The food crisis hitting Africa last year, following soaring international food and fuel prices, is finally fading out, a new report documents. While some African countries can reduce their food import bills by up to 40 percent, food price declines in Africa at large nevertheless are the lowest in the world.

The UN's food agency FAO today published its twice-yearly 'Food Outlook' report, concluding that global food supply is "gradually steadying". With the second-highest recorded cereals crop expected this year and stocks replenished, "the world food supply looks less vulnerable to shocks than it was during last year's food crisis," FAO reports.

"International prices of most agricultural commodities have fallen in 2009 from their 2008 heights," FAO had registered. "But food prices remained high in many developing countries, and access to food by the poor also continued to be threatened by loss of employment, income and other effects of the global economic crisis," it added.

The cost of purchasing food on the international market place for the most economically vulnerable group of countries was set to fall by less than one-quarter for each from last year. "Much of the respite comes by way of a one-third drop in their cereal import bills and an equally pronounced drop in vegetable oil purchases, in response to improved domestic supply prospects," FAO notes.

But prospects in sub-Saharan Africa were "less optimistic," the report noted. Africa endured the largest rise in food import costs, when measured from the run-up to the peak in prices in 2008, "but the expected decline in the overall bill this year, from US$ 28.4 billion to US$ 21.3 billion, is among the smallest of any geographic or economic group," the report notes.

Among least developed countries, many African states nevertheless will see a greatly reduced food import bill in 2009 compared to last year due to lower food and transport costs. Landlocked Zambia may see a 42 percent reduction in food import costs, the forecast says, with chronically food insecure Lesotho expecting a 38 percent cost reduction.

But not only landlocked African nations can look forward to lower food import bills this year. FAO expects a cost reduction of around 30 percent for food imports into Senegal, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Mauritania and Tanzania. For other chronically food insecure countries such as Swaziland, Angola, Sudan, Somali and Liberia, however, cost reductions are only on a 5 to 15 percent scale.

While the import bills are rapidly shrinking throughout Africa, consumer prices however "continue to rise strongly in many of the lowest income food deficit countries, compounding the economic hardships that their inhabitants already face," the FAO reports adds, referring to price statistics for April 2009.

In Ethiopia, the consumer price index has risen by 46 percent, in Kenya by 27 percent. Rising consumer prices hit between 10 and 20 percent in Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Swaziland, Angola, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Niger and Lesotho. With expected food import prices to fall, this trend of growing consumer prices may however fall during the year.

"Eroding purchasing power in most Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries through a combination of falling incomes and falling real exchange rates over much of the past 12 months afflicts the affordability of food however cheap it has become on the international market place," the FAO report therefore still warns. The African food crisis therefore by no means is over.

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