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Implications of the Ukraine Crisis: Food, Fuel, Fertilisers and Freight Prices in the Southern Africa Region (July 2022)

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• The Southern Africa Region is estimated to be one of the most affected regions by the ripple effects of the Ukraine crisis; WFP estimates the projected additional increase in regional acute food insecurity due to the crisis at approximately 10 million people in absolute terms1 .

• Despite governments attempting to curb soaring food and fuel prices through various measures (e.g. fuel subsidies, price ceilings on basic commodities, etc.), all monitored countries in the region have seen a year-on-year (y-o-y) increase in the cost of their food baskets ranging between 5 to 200%. As the region is a net importer of cooking oils, all monitored countries have also seen a high y-o-y increase in cooking oil prices (10 – 400%), and nearly all countries have seen a y-o-y increase in cereal prices.

• As of May 2022, the top 4 countries which saw the highest y-o-y price increases across the 3 main food commodities (i.e. cereals, pulses and cooking oil) and the food basket were Zimbabwe, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo (ROC).

• High global oil prices have led to increased freight rates and high domestic pump prices; comparing pre-crisis rates to current rates, WFP’s ocean freight rates to the region from other regions have seen a 10-40% increase. Given that the impact of high freight costs slowly pass through to retail prices and peak after 12 months, the inflationary impact of high freight costs will likely continue to be felt throughout 20222 . In contrast, pass-through of high global oil prices to pump prices is much quicker and prices across the region have soared; 9 monitored countries in the region saw their domestic petrol prices increase over the past year and for 7 of them this is the 2nd consecutive year of petrol price increases.

• While the impact of high food prices are already being felt across the region, surging fertilizer costs are of major concern for the upcoming agricultural season. Various export restrictions on fertilizer are currently affecting nearly all the countries in the region, and with tight supplies, prices have soared in domestic markets (e.g. Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania have seen their prices double y-o-y). While countries such as Malawi have committed to maintaining the same budget for their agricultural input programmes this year as last year, with high international prices and a weakening currency, fertilizer accessibility could pose a significant challenge to this year’s agricultural production.

• With the exception of Angola and Zambia, most countries in the region are seeing their currencies depreciate against the USD on a y-o-y comparison, with Zimbabwe and Malawi having recently seen significant month-on-month depreciation; as a result, countries are facing higher import bills and worsening trade imbalances. As countries have been deeply scarred by the impact of the COVID-10 pandemic, they are not in a good fiscal space to absorb additional shocks, and fiscal balancing is becoming increasingly difficult for many countries.

• The impact of the Ukraine crisis is currently mainly being felt in terms of food access; however, high fertilizer prices and the possibility of food export restrictions or bans could result in this becoming a food availability issue. Much depends on this upcoming agricultural season, and close monitoring of the impact of the global food crisis on the region will be needed.