Written by Omar Farooq and Christa Larson, The Associated Press
Mogadishu, Somalia (AFP) – It now costs twice as much as Ayan Hassan Abdulrahman just a few months ago to buy the wheat flour she uses to prepare breakfast every day for her 11 children in the Somali capital.
Almost all wheat sold in Somalia comes from Ukraine and Russia, which have halted exports across the Black Sea since Moscow launched a war on its neighbor on February 24. The timing couldn’t be worse: The United Nations warned that an estimated 13 million people were suffering from extreme hunger in the Horn of Africa as a result of the ongoing drought.
Abdul Rahman tries to achieve this by substituting sorghum, another readily available grain, in her flatbread. However, inflation has meant that the price of cooking oil that still needs to be prepared has also gone up – a jar that once cost $16 is now selling for $45 in Mogadishu markets.
“The cost of living is high nowadays, which makes it difficult for families even to buy flour and oil,” she says.
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Alhaji Abdi Diblawi, a businessman who imports wheat flour into Somalia, fears the situation could get worse: There is also a looming shortage of shipping containers to bring in food supplies from elsewhere at the moment.
“There is no place for Somalis to grow wheat, and we are not familiar with how to grow it,” he says. “Our main concern now is what the future will hold for us when supplies are currently running out.”
18 million people are facing extreme hunger in the Sahel, a part of Africa just below the Sahara desert where farmers are experiencing their worst agricultural production in more than a decade. The United Nations World Food Program says food shortages could worsen when the dry season arrives in late summer.
“Acute hunger is rising to unprecedented levels and the global situation is getting worse. David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP), warned earlier this month that conflict, the climate crisis, COVID-19 and rising food and fuel costs have created a perfect storm — and now we have The war in Ukraine is piling on the catastrophe.
UNICEF says that even the cost of therapeutic food for malnourished children could rise by 16% over the next six months due to the war in Ukraine and disruptions linked to the pandemic.
African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to United Nations figures. The African Development Bank has already announced a 45% increase in wheat prices on the continent, making everything from couscous in Mauritania to fried cakes sold in Congo more expensive for customers.
“Africa has no control over production or logistics chains and is completely at the mercy of the situation,” said Senegalese President Macky Sall, chair of the African Union, who said he would travel to Russia and Ukraine to discuss price problems.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed the West last week to lift sanctions imposed on Moscow over the war in Ukraine, in a bid to shift blame from Russia to the West for a growing global food crisis exacerbated by Ukraine’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain. and other agricultural products while under attack.
Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” according to the Kremlin.
Western officials denied the Russian allegations. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken noted that foodstuffs, fertilizers and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the United States and many other countries on Russia.
In Cameroon, baker Sylvester Akko says he has seen his daily customers drop from 300 a day to just 100 since bread prices jumped 40% due to a shortage of wheat imports. He has already let three of his seven employees go, and fears he will have to shut down his company in Yaounde entirely unless something changes.
“A 50-kilogram (110-pound) sack of wheat now sells for $60 – up from about $30 – and supplies are erratic,” Akko said.
Besides the shortage in wheat imports, the African Development Bank is also warning of a potential 20% drop in food production on the continent because farmers have to pay 300% more for imported fertilizer.
The organization says it plans to address these problems with a $1.5 billion plan that will provide farmers in Africa with certified seeds, fertilizers and other assistance. Reducing dependence on foreign imports is part of the strategy, but those economic transitions are likely to take years, not months.
The Senegalese president says appetite can center more quickly. It encourages Africans to consume the local grains that were once a staple in their diets.
“We should also change our eating habits,” Sal said. We have dropped millet and started importing rice from Asia. Now we only know how to eat rice and we don’t produce enough. We only know how to eat bread. We do not produce wheat.”
Krista Larsson writes from Dakar, Senegal. AP journalists in Europe and Edwin Kendzika Muki in Yaounde, Cameroon; Babacar Dion in Dakar, Senegal; Alhaji Kudra Maliro in Bunia, Congo, and Francis Kokotsi in Accra, Ghana contributed to this report.
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