Rabah Arezki: “In many African countries, inflation is in double digits”

Rising prices, petroleum products starting to get harder to find, African economies being affected like the rest of the planet by the war raging in Ukraine, thousands of kilometers from the continent. But what are the mechanisms that cause the fighting in Mariupol or Odessa to have repercussions on the markets of major African cities? What could be the consequences for the countries on the continent? Rabah Arezki, an assistant researcher at Harvard University, is Laurent Correau’s guest.

Zimbabwean security guard Edwin Dapi was already struggling to provide for his wife and four children before a conflict 11,000 km (6,800 miles) away in Ukraine sent global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Now his monthly pay of 18,000 Zimbabwe dollars, worth roughly $55 at the black market rate used at many informal markets, is stretched to breaking point.

At a supermarket in Mabvuku, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital Harare, the 46-year-old was fretting over his family’s next meal.

He reached for a 2-litre (0.5 gallon) bottle of vegetable oil, but at 990 Zimbabwean dollars it was more than he could afford. So was a 2 kg (4.4 lb) bag of flour for 390 Zimbabwean dollars.

“I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what that has to do with us,” he said, scratching oil and flour from his grocery list.

United Nations agencies are warning that price hikes sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will worsen a food crisis in Africa, where tens of millions of people have already been plunged into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shocks and economic turmoil.

Last year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 193 million people considered to be acutely food insecure worldwide, a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises, set up by the United Nations and the European Union, said this month.

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has struggled to feed itself since the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms to resettle black families, a policy championed by Zimbabwe’s late president Robert Mugabe during the 2000s.

More recently, its economy has been throttled by drought and cyclones, rolling electricity cuts, foreign currency shortages and runaway inflation.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that some 5.3 million Zimbabweans – around a third of the population – are food insecure.

Zimbabwean security guard Edwin Dapi was already struggling to provide for his wife and four children before a conflict 11,000 km (6,800 miles) away in Ukraine sent global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Now his monthly pay of 18,000 Zimbabwe dollars, worth roughly $55 at the black market rate used at many informal markets, is stretched to breaking point.

At a supermarket in Mabvuku, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital Harare, the 46-year-old was fretting over his family’s next meal.

He reached for a 2-litre (0.5 gallon) bottle of vegetable oil, but at 990 Zimbabwean dollars it was more than he could afford. So was a 2 kg (4.4 lb) bag of flour for 390 Zimbabwean dollars.

“I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what that has to do with us,” he said, scratching oil and flour from his grocery list.

United Nations agencies are warning that price hikes sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will worsen a food crisis in Africa, where tens of millions of people have already been plunged into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shocks and economic turmoil.

Last year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 193 million people considered to be acutely food insecure worldwide, a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises, set up by the United Nations and the European Union, said this month.

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has struggled to feed itself since the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms to resettle black families, a policy championed by Zimbabwe’s late president Robert Mugabe during the 2000s.

More recently, its economy has been throttled by drought and cyclones, rolling electricity cuts, foreign currency shortages and runaway inflation.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that some 5.3 million Zimbabweans – around a third of the population – are food insecure.

Zimbabwean security guard Edwin Dapi was already struggling to provide for his wife and four children before a conflict 11,000 km (6,800 miles) away in Ukraine sent global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Now his monthly pay of 18,000 Zimbabwe dollars, worth roughly $55 at the black market rate used at many informal markets, is stretched to breaking point.

At a supermarket in Mabvuku, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital Harare, the 46-year-old was fretting over his family’s next meal.

He reached for a 2-litre (0.5 gallon) bottle of vegetable oil, but at 990 Zimbabwean dollars it was more than he could afford. So was a 2 kg (4.4 lb) bag of flour for 390 Zimbabwean dollars.

“I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what that has to do with us,” he said, scratching oil and flour from his grocery list.

United Nations agencies are warning that price hikes sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will worsen a food crisis in Africa, where tens of millions of people have already been plunged into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shocks and economic turmoil.

Last year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 193 million people considered to be acutely food insecure worldwide, a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises, set up by the United Nations and the European Union, said this month.

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has struggled to feed itself since the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms to resettle black families, a policy championed by Zimbabwe’s late president Robert Mugabe during the 2000s.

More recently, its economy has been throttled by drought and cyclones, rolling electricity cuts, foreign currency shortages and runaway inflation.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that some 5.3 million Zimbabweans – around a third of the population – are food insecure.

Zimbabwean security guard Edwin Dapi was already struggling to provide for his wife and four children before a conflict 11,000 km (6,800 miles) away in Ukraine sent global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Now his monthly pay of 18,000 Zimbabwe dollars, worth roughly $55 at the black market rate used at many informal markets, is stretched to breaking point.

At a supermarket in Mabvuku, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital Harare, the 46-year-old was fretting over his family’s next meal.

He reached for a 2-litre (0.5 gallon) bottle of vegetable oil, but at 990 Zimbabwean dollars it was more than he could afford. So was a 2 kg (4.4 lb) bag of flour for 390 Zimbabwean dollars.

“I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what that has to do with us,” he said, scratching oil and flour from his grocery list.

United Nations agencies are warning that price hikes sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will worsen a food crisis in Africa, where tens of millions of people have already been plunged into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shocks and economic turmoil.

Last year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 193 million people considered to be acutely food insecure worldwide, a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises, set up by the United Nations and the European Union, said this month.

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has struggled to feed itself since the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms to resettle black families, a policy championed by Zimbabwe’s late president Robert Mugabe during the 2000s.

More recently, its economy has been throttled by drought and cyclones, rolling electricity cuts, foreign currency shortages and runaway inflation.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that some 5.3 million Zimbabweans – around a third of the population – are food insecure.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said in March the government had purchased sufficient maize and wheat stocks from local farmers in the 2021-21 agricultural year to cushion the poor against any food shortages this year.

But the millers association imposed even bigger price increases in April of 31% for wheat flour and 52% for maize meal.

The group says it is seeking alternative suppliers for at least 155,000 tonnes of imports needed until the next harvest in October.

As fuel prices rose and the currency rapidly devalued, Zimbabwe’s annual inflation jumped to 96% in April, up from 61% in January.

And with fertilizer prices soaring due to the disruption of exports from Russia, many farmers in Zimbabwe are struggling to afford it just as dry weather is affecting crop yields in parts of the country.

Fertilizer prices are up 30% over the past year, according to the Zimbabwe Farmers Union.

“If fertilizer prices remain at their record high levels, it will also dim crop yield prospects for the 2022/23 agricultural year,” WFP’s Zimbabwe spokeswoman Maria Gallar Sanchez said.

Officials at Zimbabwe’s information, agriculture and trade ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Fertilizer firm Omnia Holdings, which operates in many African countries, said prices of potash, ammonia, urea and other key soil nutrients have gone up by 200%-400% since January 2021.

Small-scale farmers, who account for more than 70% of fertilizer consumption in the region, have been hardest hit, Omnia Chief Executive Seelan Gobalsamy told Reuters.

Boniface Mutize, who grows maize and soybeans just outside Harare, said he has started making his own fertilizer by mixing cow dung or chicken waste with zinc. But he said he needs ammonium nitrate, which is not produced in large quantities in Zimbabwe.

“Many smallholder farmers will not be able to come back next season to grow their own food,” he said.

($1 = 115.8500 Kenyan shillings)

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