Fears over global food prices due to pandemic

Food prices reached six-year high in February due to soaring demand and disrupted global supply chains

Kate Ng
Tuesday 09 March 2021 13:42 GMT
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A shopper at a Morrisons supermarket in London
A shopper at a Morrisons supermarket in London

Global food prices have risen steeply after first seeing a slump during the pandemic, prompting fears of widespread food poverty in the months to come.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations’ Food Price Index (FFPI), prices rose for the ninth consecutive month 116.0 points in February, reaching its highest level since July 2014.

Food prices initially fell due to the Covid-related economic downturn, reaching a low in May. But since then, rising prices for vegetable oil, meat and dairy have contributed to an overall rise in food prices, according to the World Economic Forum.

Bloomberg reports that prices for commodities such as oil and grains are being driven up by expectations for a “roaring 20s” post-Covid economic recovery, as well as “ultra-loose monetary policies”.

Hunger charities and international agencies have warned that the Covid-19 pandemic already exacerbated food insecurity in the poorest and most vulnerable countries and if food prices continue to increase, the crisis will worsen.

The impacts have also been felt in wealthier countries, such as the US, Canada and Europe, as companies run out of ways to absorb the surge in raw material, transport and packaging costs.

While developed markets are usually protected from short-term price surges due to more elaborate food chains, companies will likely begin to raise prices for consumers if costs stay high for a sustained period of time.

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Canada, told Bloomberg simply: “People will have to get used to paying more for food. It’s only going to get worse.”

Food prices in the UK rose by 0.6 per cent between December 2020 and January 2021 alone, compared to a fall of 0.1 per cent in the same period the year before, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

With the cost of buying food becoming more difficult to stay on top of, particularly as the unemployment rate continues to increase, food banks saw a surge in people needing their services over the course of the pandemic.

The Trussell Trust charity distributed a record 2,600 food parcels a day to children in the UK during the first six months of the pandemic.

More recently, a London food bank saw the “largest queue” it had ever seen just last month. The Community Kitchen said it gave out a week’s worth of food to 520 people collecting for 2,000 residents in a single day.

According to Bloomberg analysts, the price of staples such as grains, soybeans and sugar have soared and are unlikely to fall any time soon due to a combination of adverse weather, increased demand and global supply chains heavily disrupted by the pandemic.

Head of outreach, Afzal Parkar, told the BBC that food poverty had “gone out of control” during the third national lockdown.

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