Wednesday, 1 December, 2021

World food prices at highest level in more than a decade

WASHINGTON: The United Nations’ barometer of world food prices surged to a new peak, reaching its highest level since July 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organisation announced.

The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of a basket of food commodities, averaged 133.2 points in October, up 3 per cent from September, rising for a third consecutive month, report agencies.

Cereal prices overall increased by 3.2 per cent, with wheat rising 5 per cent as a result of reduced harvests in major exporting nations, including Canada, Russia and the US. Prices of all other major cereals increased too.

The vegetable oil index went up 9.6 per cent, hitting an all-time high, and dairy rose by 2.6 points, with increased demand for butter, skimmed milk powder and whole milk powder, as buyers try to replenish low stocks. By contrast, cheese prices remained stable.

For the third consecutive month, the meat index declined, amid reduced purchases of products from China, and a sharp decline in beef from Brazil. Poultry and sheep prices rose.

After six consecutive monthly increases, sugar prices dropped by 1.8 per cent, with limited global demand and large surpluses for export.

Compared with last year, global cereal production for 2021 is anticipated to increase and a new record level of about 2,793 million tonnes.

The production, distribution and consumption of all this food uses about a third of the world’s total energy, according to a new report launched on the sidelines of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

Feeding the world’s population is also responsible for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a priority in the fight against climate change.

The report shares several examples of how that can be accomplished.

Solar irrigation, for example, can improve access to water, enabling several cropping cycles and increasing resilience to changing rainfall patterns.

In India, the use of solar irrigation pumps has raised farmers’ incomes by at least 50 per cent compared with times when rain was the only option. In Rwanda, smallholder farmers’ yields have grown by about a third.

In a video message, Qu Dongyu, director general of the FAO, said that the report “shows that there are many opportunities to implement renewable energy solutions across agri-food systems”. The publication also provides recommendations, including better data collection to guide renewable energy investments, improved access to finance, and a greater focus on raising awareness and building capacity.

Not only do a third of agri-food emissions stem from energy use – fuel for farm machinery for example – that proportion grew 20 per cent between 2000 and 2018.

According to the report, that growth has been mainly driven by mechanisation in Asia, such as irrigation pumps, farm machinery, processing equipment and inputs such as fertilisers.