Food prices soar to record levels amid Russia-Ukraine war, supply disruptions

FILE IMAGE - A worker selects a white bread loaf at a bakery in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, March 31, 2022.Photographer: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Prices for food commodities like grains and vegetable oils reached their highest levels ever last month because of Russia's war in Ukraine and the "massive supply disruptions" it is causing, the United Nations said Friday.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said its Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices for a basket of commodities, averaged 159.3 points last month, up 12.6% from February. As it is, the February index was the highest level since its inception in 1990.

FAO said the war in Ukraine was largely responsible for the 17.1% rise in grains, including wheat and others like oats, barley and corn. Russia and Ukraine together account for around 30% and 20% of global wheat and corn exports, respectively.

While predictable given February's steep rise, "this is really remarkable," said Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO's markets and trade division. "Clearly, these very high prices for food require urgent action."

The biggest price increases were for vegetable oils: the vegetable oil price index rose 23.2%, driven by higher quotations for sunflower seed oil. Ukraine is the world's leading exporter of sunflower oil.

"There is, of course, a massive supply disruption, and that massive supply disruption from the Black Sea region has fueled prices for vegetable oil," Schmidhuber told reporters in Geneva.

More "well-behaved prices" were the ingredients for rice pudding, he said: rice, dairy and sugar.

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