Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Food in Africa: Too Much and Too Little

The African Agriculture Blog warns us of two expected changes in the African food system. One is abundance and low food prices, the other is starvation and high food prices. Let's hear it for the importance of integrating African markets:

South African bumper harvest depresses Botswana cereal prices
"A three-million tonne surplus in maize from South Africa has resulted in a depression of prices" in Botswana. The prices the government uses to buy from farmers is expected to fall from P70 to P60 for a 50 kilo bag of maize, which is on the high end of what S. African farmers are receiving. Farmers who contracted with the government earlier, however, have already locked in higher prices.

Niger is on the brink of food shortages
Millions of people in Niger are at risk of running short of food, relief agencies have warned, as high prices and a lack of rain take their toll on one of the world's poorest countries. The landlocked west African nation lies at the centre of a food crisis spanning the Sahel, the arid region on the southern fringe of the Sahara.
The United Nations estimates that 7.8m people in Niger could be affected unless donors deploy some $130m (€102m, £88m) of emergency aid immediately. Parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria and central Chad are also at risk. ...
Weekly admissions of malnourished children [in southern Niger] to MSF's [Doctors Without Borders'] main feeding station in Zinder doubled in the second half of April. ...
After poor rains last year, the cereal harvest was 31 per cent lower than in 2008, says the World Bank. ...
A government bulletin from mid-April found that prices for staples including millet, sorghum, maize and rice were "at an exceptionally high level", standing between 6 per cent and 17 per cent above the average of the past five years.
Compared with the same month in 2005 - when a plague of locusts contributed to food shortages - prices for millet, sorghum and maize were all higher this April, while the price of imported rice had increased by more than a third. ...
"There is enough food in the area but the prices are too high," says Johannes Schoors, Niger country director for Care, an aid agency.
During a visit to the region that included Zinder in late April, Sir John Holmes, the UN's senior emergency relief official, said that without structural changes, "it will become increasingly difficult to contain these recurrent crises, which do so much to undermine economic and social progress in the Sahel".
Sir John urged investment in irrigation and measures to prevent the encroachment of the Sahara. These steps would be more effective than periodic emergency appeals.
Governance problems are holding up aid and development flows while poor infrastructure and underdeveloped food markets and infrastructure hamper intra-regional trade in grains. (Note: the distance from Cape Town, S. Africa to Zinder, Niger is 3364 miles. That's a thousand more than from here in Ithaca, NY to my parents in Santa Barbara, CA or 100 less than the distance from here to London. It's not minor infrastructure improvements we're talking about, but it's still shorter than sending food from here to Zinder [5350 miles].)

Meanwhile, they also report that Zimbabwe's parastatal is giving 75-80% subsidies on fertilizer for winter wheat farmers. The amount farmers can buy depends on whether they sell to the parastatal marketing board or not and how large the farm is. The board is also encouraging farmers to do their banking with the board.

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