Plate of beans too costly for some as conflict sends food costs rocketing

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 16:29 GMT

A refugee from South Sudan displays beans received from the World Food Program (WFP) in Palorinya settlement in Moyo district northern Uganda October 26, 2017. Picture taken October 26, 2017. REUTERS/James Akena

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The number of people in the world suffering long-term hunger has risen in the last two years from 784 million to 821 million

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Oct 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A plate of beans can cost the equivalent of hundreds of dollars in some poor countries as conflict and political instability send food costs spiralling, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Millions of people are going hungry and skyrocketing costs mean a meal can cost up to two days' wages for some, said the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in a study released on World Food Day.

"Conflict is going to kill people in the places where it is happening, and it's also going to destroy lives indirectly," Arif Husain, the WFP's chief economist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

World leaders are aiming to end hunger by 2030 under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.

But researchers who looked at how much of their daily incomes people had to spend to make a meal found food was becoming less affordable in countries hit by conflict and instability.

Someone in New York might spend $1.20 on a simple home-cooked meal like a bean stew, representing just 0.6 percent of the average daily income, they said.

In South Sudan, the same dish would cost twice the average daily income – the equivalent of a U.S. citizen spending $348, researchers found.

The conflict-hit country had the most unaffordable food of the 52 countries surveyed, followed by north-eastern Nigeria, where a meal costs the equivalent of $222; the Democratic Republic of Congo at $79, Malawi at $76 and Yemen at $62.

The number of people in the world suffering long-term hunger has risen in the last two years from 784 million to 821 million, said Husain.

While affordability has improved in some countries, the cost of food as a proportion of incomes remains high across much of Africa and in parts of Asia and a smaller number of Latin American countries, the WFP said.

While a single meal cost no more than 10 percent of an average daily income in most of the 52 countries surveyed, in eight it was between 20 and 40 percent, Husain said. In two countries, a meal cost more than the average daily wage.

Conflict and instability add to food costs by taking up resources, reducing available government spending for the social sector, and causing currency depreciation and inflation, which drive up real costs, he said.

Charities said they had seen food costs spiral in crisis situations - CARE International said the price of such staple items as rice and wheat had doubled in Yemen in recent months.

"In fragile settings, prices often change quickly, especially for the most vulnerable people," said Emily Janoch, a director of learning at the charity.

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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