Ezra Ngala, an informal builder, struggles to make ends meet in the slums of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “I’m trying to survive,” he says, explaining that he can’t feed his wife and four-year-old son.
“In the past few months, there has been a surge in the fasting of people like me. The government says the war in Ukraine is the cause of all this.”
Soaring global food and fuel prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine have left millions of Africans facing hunger and food insecurity this year, warn the UN, local politicians and charities. Rising prices have exacerbated the economic woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, raising fears of unrest in the hardest-hit countries. The World Food Program said many parts of Africa will face an “unprecedented food emergency” this year, due in part to the war in Ukraine.
“Conflict in Ukraine [sparked a] global rise in prices for fuel, fertilizers, as well as edible oil, sugar and especially wheat. This is causing serious turmoil in the system,” said Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide in an interview with the Financial Times.
Stretching from northern Kenya to Somalia and much of Ethiopia, up to 20 million people could go hungry in 2022 due to the worst war-exacerbated drought in four decades, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. in Ukraine. More than 40 million people in the Sahel and West Africa are facing severe food insecurity this year, up from 10.8 million three years ago, according to FAO.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for a double-digit share of wheat imports to more than 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Madagascar, Cameroon, Uganda and Nigeria, according to the FAO. Eritrea depends on these two countries for all wheat imports.
Even those countries that do not depend on imports from Russia and Ukraine have suffered from rising prices.
In response to this trend, the World Bank on Wednesday said it had approved a $2.3 billion program to help countries in eastern and southern Africa tackle food insecurity.
The IMF predicts sub-Saharan African consumer prices to rise above 12.2% this year, the highest in nearly two decades. In Ethiopia, food prices rose 42.9% in April from the same month a year earlier.
There are fears that higher food prices could spark unrest in poorer countries, where food accounts for a higher proportion of daily spending than in developed countries.
During the food crisis of 2007-2008, caused by a surge in energy prices and drought in crop regions, about 40 countries experienced social unrest. More than a third of these countries were on the African continent.
Even before the Russian invasion in late February, the pandemic had already hit economic growth on the continent. “Africa has already struggled with food insecurity,” said Vandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “These African countries have a diminished ability to cushion their populations from fluctuations in food prices.”
There are already some signs of unrest. Landlocked Chad declared a food emergency earlier this month. According to Amnesty International, in Uganda, six activists were arrested for protesting food price hikes in late May. Rising food prices since May have sparked street protests in Nairobi under the hashtags #LowerFoodPrices and #Njaa-Revolution, Swahili for “hunger revolution.”
“People are hungry, the reality is that people cannot afford to keep up with these rising prices. You wake up every day and prices go up,” said Lewis Maganga, a local cost-of-living campaigner.
Jacqueline Mueni, who bakes cakes for weddings and birthdays in Nairobi, is struggling. “Things are just getting worse,” she said, adding that in her three years in the business, it was the worst time ever. “Over the past three months, food prices have really skyrocketed.”
Edible oil prices in Kenya jumped more than 45% year-over-year in May, while flour prices rose 28% in May, according to the World Bank. “This is the worst time. I was very comfortable making money, reimbursing expenses and making a profit. I was selling an average of five cakes a day. Now one or two if I’m lucky,” Mueni said.
Even Nigeria, an oil producer and member of OPEC, has been hit by global food and fuel prices. Africa’s most populous country exports crude oil but relies on fuel imports. It is also a major food importer, especially grains. The price of bread in Lagos has risen from 300 naira ($0.72) before the pandemic to 700 naira this year, according to Chibundu Emek Onyenacho, emerging markets analyst at Renaissance Capital Bank.
“If you suddenly switched to 700 [naira for a loaf of sliced bread]it puts pressure on everyone who gets paid [monthly] the minimum wage is 30,000 naira,” Onyenacho said.
He added that the price of wheat flour means that in rural areas people mix it with flour made from cassava, a cheap root vegetable, because they are “willing to compromise” on quality to bring down the cost of everyday foods such as bread. .
In Kenya, rising fuel prices mean construction worker Ngala is spending about half of his salary on fuel prices. As a result, some dishes became unavailable.
“We can’t afford basic things like vegetable oil and cornmeal,” he said. ugali, Cooked Dough From Cornmeal. “There are people who can’t even afford to eat once a day.”