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World food prices hit 6-year high amid COVID

December 3, 2020

World food prices have risen for the sixth month in a row, hitting the "highest level since December 2014" according to the FAO. A UN report said the coronavirus pandemic has been a major driver of food inequality.

Machine harvesting of sugar cane plantation
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Rudhart

World food prices jumped to an almost six-year high in November, according to the United Nations food agency.

An index published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Thursday said prices for several food products had risen significantly.

The index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of food products, averaged 105 points in November compared with the previous month when it stood at 101 according to an adjusted figure.

The monthly increase was the sharpest since July 2012, putting the index at its "highest level since December 2014," the Rome-based agency said.

Which prices have risen the most?

Leading the surge in prices was vegetable oil, rising 14.5% month-on-month due largely to a jump in palm oil prices. The FAO described the increase as "stunning."

Cereals, sugar, meat, and dairy also showed rises. The sugar price index was up 3.3% month-on-month amid "growing expectations of a global production shortfall" as poor weather weakened crop prospects in the EU, Russia, and Thailand.

Cereal prices were up by a more modest 2.5%, although prices were almost 20% above their level last year.

The increases for meat and dairy were the least pronounced, both at 0.9% above the figure for October. While meat prices were down 13.7% on the same time last year, there were monthly increases for bovine and pig meats, with a fall in poultry prices.

Pandemic hits some hard

The agency said an increase in prices was an extra burden for those whose income had fallen because of coronavirus. It said the COVID-19 pandemic was proving to be "an important driver of the levels of global food insecurity."

"The pandemic is exacerbating and intensifying already fragile conditions caused by conflicts, pests and weather shocks, including recent hurricanes in Central America and floods in Africa," it said.

The FAO said that 45 countries, 34 of them in Africa, continued to be in need of external help to secure enough food.

The agency noted a risk of above-average rainfall in southern Africa and East Asia. Meanwhile, in parts of Near East Asia and East Africa there was an expectation of reduced rains. Both represented "conditions that may result in adverse production shocks," the agency said.

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.