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Press Briefing by the United Nations Information Service, 27 May 2022 - Food price hikes in Malawi

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Food price hikes in Malawi

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Program (WFP), said soaring food prices were being seen in Malawi which had started to push the poor onto the brink of hunger,. Rising global food prices as a result of covid 19 had adversely affected Malawi in 2020/2021. In newer WFP assessment, these challenges were further exacerbated by the effects of the Ukraine crisis. Over the last three months the cost of the food basket has increased by 18 percent in the country, registering the highest increase in Southern Africa. WFP expected a worsening situation if the price of the food basket remained high. 50 percent of Malawi’s population were already living in poverty, on less than 2 USD a day prior to these price hikes.

Mr. Phiri said that the price of bread had increased by 50 percent in the last three months. Interviews with bakery owners revealed that the retail price of a 50kg bag of wheat flour had risen by 42 percent. Malawi imported 100 percent of its petroleum and diesel, the prices of which had increase by 54 precent and 64 percent respectively, triggering an upsurge in the price of food. Fertiliser prices in Malawi were at an all time high; 130 – 160 percent higher than in 2020. As of the first week of May 2022, the price of beans had increased by 28 percent compared to the same time last year. The government of Malawi had removed its commodity tax on cooking oils since April, however prices remained high, reflecting a 300 percent increase compared with November 2020.

It was supposed to be a time of plenty in Africa right now, and the agricultural harvest and maize prices were anticipated to fall. However, maize prices rose sharply last month. If food prices continued to rise, the WFP would be affected in two ways. It would cost more to provide food for the hungry, and even to provide cash assistance. Secondly, this meant the existing financial resources would not last as long and would be stretched. On average, the WFP assisted 1.5 million people every year, and had been forced to provide reduced assistance to 400,000 people as a result of climate shocks. Some 2.9 million dollars were required to provide support to 22,500 families who had been affected by floods. WFP required 3.4 million dollars to continue providing vital food assistance to 48,000 refugees. Mr. Phiri concluded saying that while Malawi might not make headline news with all the crises happening in the world, this might be another potential huge crisis down the line.

Responding to questions, Mr. Phiri said the crisis in Ukraine had the potential to wreak havoc in many countries. While countries which relied on direct imports of their wheat are on the front line, there were other countries which were going under the radar but were equally affected - like Malawi. It was difficult to say whether Malawi was the most affected; time would tell, but the impact would definitely be high. WFP did not have the exact number of affected people yet.