Food security is threatened as maize meal prices remain high

Graph showing the price of maize

By Phephile Motau

Although the rise in prices of maize meal has eased, the prices are still at an all-time high in Eswatini, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

The organisation said along with a forecast deceleration in economic growth in 2023, with adverse implications for employment and incomes, the high food prices are likely to diminish vulnerable households’ purchasing power, stressing food insecurity conditions.

The latest food price monitoring analysis by FAO shows that domestic staple food prices generally remained at elevated levels in February 2023. The FAO report shows that the national price of maize increased by 49 per cent in Eswatini from January 2022.

The largest increase was in the Hhohho region, where maize meal prices have increased by over 90 per cent. Seasonal factors and price transmission from the recent declines in international grain prices supported month‑on‑month declines in some staple food prices in parts of East Asia, South America, Southern Africa, and West Africa.

The report states that however, in many countries, conflict, adverse weather events, and macroeconomic difficulties, particularly currency weakness, continue to keep domestic prices at elevated levels. In the report, the organisation said in Eswatini, meal price rises eased but levels were still at all-time highs.

“Following the sharp increases at the end of 2022, prices of maize meal increased only moderately in January 2023, as declining prices in South Africa, the main source of cereals began to filter into the Eswatini domestic market,” the report states.

FAO said prices were still at all-time highs at the start of 2023. At the beginning of March, Eswatini Financial Times reported that the price of maize was E6 720 per tonne when compared to South Africa where it cost E4 132. However, the prices were due for review by the Ministry of Agriculture.

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The increase in these prices has led to the prices of the staple maize meal being equal to that of rice per kilogram. FAO said food price increases eased in several countries, amid softening global commodity prices, while in others staple maize grain prices reached new record highs, severely stressing acute food insecurity.

“In South Africa, linked to softening international benchmark prices, wholesale prices of maize fell for the third consecutive month in February. In addition, an overall favourable domestic supply outlook, resting on good production prospects for the 2023 maize crop and ample national stocks, added further downward pressure on prices,” the organisation said.

It was reported that the recent decreases were, however, limited by a moderate depreciation of the national currency that negated some of the weakening effects of softening global prices.

The organisation said in Botswana, Eswatini, and Namibia, following sharp increases at the end of 2022, prices of maize meal increased only moderately in January, as the declining maize prices in South Africa, the main source of cereals for these countries began to filter into the domestic markets.

Prices were, however, still at all-time highs at the start of 2023. The IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis June 2022 – March 2023 estimated that in terms of food insecurity by the current month, 37 000 emaSwati would be in an emergency state, 222 000 would be in crisis, 438 000 people will be stressed and 477 000 would be food secure.

The forecast showed that food availability was expected to deteriorate as many households are expected to have depleted their food stocks after the good harvest the country got, and with the impact of the continual fuel and food price shocks, households are expected to experience increased food availability and access challenges resulting in large food gaps and depletion of livelihood assets.

This means a majority of households having depleted their food stock in less than six months will depend on markets and financial capacity to access food.

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