Professor Simon Roberts | Why African Countries Experience High Food Prices and What We Can Do About It
About this episode
African countries are facing huge challenges around the availability, cost, and quality of food. These countries are import-dependent and disproportionately affected by global price hikes, while many are also undergoing rapid urbanisation which increases demand. These problems need an effective response to ensure the provision of affordable, healthy food. Professor Simon Roberts and his colleagues at the University of Johannesburg recently explored why high food prices are found in African countries, and suggest urgent solutions for addressing food scarcity, instability, and unaffordability. Read More
Africa has vast quantities of available arable land, with good soil and favourable growing conditions. So, why are food deficits such a big problem?
As Professor Roberts explains, weather events play a role. African countries have amongst the lowest emissions in the world, but they are also some of the most affected by climate change. There has been little investment in water management and irrigation, and crops are mostly rain-fed, making farmers vulnerable to drought.
Import dependency is also key. In Kenya, the combination of extreme weather and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on imports has increased maize prices. While international maize prices increased by 40% in 2022, in Kenya they more than doubled.
Poorly working markets are another important factor. There is significant fragmentation, meaning that trade between African countries is limited. The emergence of international agri-food companies means that governance at each step of the food production system is concentrated in the hands of a small number of firms. Because of this ‘concentration’, competition is dampened and smaller farmers are dependent on large buyers which may pay them low prices.
Professor Roberts and his colleagues also explored the impact of such concentration on poultry markets in Malawi, Kenya and Zambia. Their research found that maize and soybeans were bought from farmers at very low prices and exported at high prices. This created artificial scarcity and caused dramatic price hikes for poultry feed. High prices for feed and new-born chicks placed poultry farmers at a commercial disadvantage. These inflated costs were then passed onto the consumer.
So, what can we do to develop just, sustainable food systems in Africa? Professor Roberts explains that there are huge opportunities to reduce import dependency and expand agriculture in south-eastern Africa, but these require a comprehensive strategy.
Markets should be monitored in real-time such as through an open-access African Market Observatory, while concentration and pricing cartels need to be addressed, and competition enforcement should be made more effective. Significant investment in water management, irrigation and grain storage is necessary. This will make African agriculture more resilient, strengthen the position of smaller farmers, and create economic growth.
Improved regional markets are also essential to build resilience. While extreme weather events are becoming more common, effects are often localised. With expanded regional markets, food shortages in one area will be mitigated by trade from other areas.
Change to African food markets to tackle food insecurity is possible, but strong political leadership is required. Civil society groups must mobilise to demand market regulation and broad change.
Original Article Reference
Summary of the position paper ‘High Food Prices in Africa: causes, consequences and agenda for action’, africanclimatefoundation.org/news_and_analysis/high-food-prices-in-africa-causes-consequences-and-agenda-for-action/, and ‘Competition issues and regional integration in soybean and animal feed to poultry markets, within and across Kenya, Malawi and Zambia’, static1.squarespace.com/static/52246331e4b0a46e5f1b8ce5/t/63ce506afe80cd7fc3c8ec39/1674465395079
For further information, you can connect with Professor Simon Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org
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