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[News]Africa famine: soaring food prices intensifying crisis

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

guardian.co.uk,

Tuesday 16 August 2011 11.24 BST


Shortages and near-historic prices for staples such as corn, wheat and
sugar have magnified the impact of the drought now ravaging the Horn
of Africa, the Food Price Watch report said.

“While the emergency in the Horn of Africa was triggered by prolonged
droughts, especially in areas struggling with conflict and internal
displacement such as Somalia, food prices that are near the record
high levels seen in 2008 also contributed to the situation,” the bank
said in a statement.

More than 12 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian
assistance in the Horn of Africa, the report said. In some areas of
Somalia, more than 40% of children under five are suffering from acute
malnutrition.

The report also warned that production of biofuels – specifically
America’s production of corn ethanol – was contributing to rising food
prices.

In global terms, food prices last month were on average 33% higher
than a year ago, the report warned. Corn, or maize, has risen by 84%;
sugar 62% and wheat 55%.

But the price rises were particularly severe in Africa. Corn prices
doubled in Kampala, Mogadishu and Kigali over the last year, the
report said.

Sorghum prices have increased more than fourfold, 240%, over last year
in parts of Somalia, the report said.

It blamed the soaring prices on poor local harvests as well as
shrinking global food stocks.

The report said corn stocks were at their lowest levels since the
1970s creating a situation in which “even small shortfalls in yields
can have an amplified effects on prices”, the report warned.

US production of corn ethanol – which the report said rose by 8% in
the first three months of this year – was also eating into supplies.

“Another factor that adds to the potential upward pressure on the
price of maize is the diversion into the production of biofuels,” the
report said.

Aid organisations have also connected rising food prices to the use of
food crops for energy.

Some prices had fallen back slightly since last February, but the bank
warned the volatility still left the most vulnerable populations, in
the Horn of Africa, dangerously exposed.

“Persistently high food prices and low food stocks indicate that we’re
still in the danger zone,” the bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, said
in a statement.

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