High food prices drive atypically high food insecurity
The price of locally produced staple foods in Sudan continued to increase atypically in November despite the harvest season which normally would lead to a decline in food prices. Sorghum and millet prices increased by 5-10 per cent, and the price of locally produced wheat increased by 10-20 per cent across most markets. These price increases were driven by high production and transportation costs and the continued depreciation of the Sudanese pound. Cereal prices remained 250-300 per cent higher than prices last year and 550-680 per cent higher than the five-year average, according to the latest update from FEWS NET.
The three main staple foods in Sudan are sorghum, wheat, and millet. Overall, Sudan produces a surplus of sorghum, is self-sufficient in millet, but does not produce its wheat requirement. Sorghum is the staple food for most poor households in central and eastern Sudan regions, while millet is the main staple food for most households in Darfur and some parts of Kordofan regions in western Sudan. Wheat is a staple food for northern states (for more details, please see the November 2020 Sudan Price Bulletin).
The latest projection update from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) platform depicts that October is the beginning of the earlier harvest in Sudan — and the period when food security stabilizes or begins to improve compared to the lean season — but that this year food insecurity remains widespread across parts of the country. This is mainly due to the prevailing poor macroeconomic conditions in the country. There has been an extreme increase in prices of all food and non-food commodities. Prices have more than doubled compared to the previous year and have increased by more than 500 per cent compared to the five-year average.
A rapid deterioration of the local currency in the parallel market has also been recorded. As of 3 December, the Sudanese pound was trading at 268 for US$1. In addition to this, the agriculture season witnessed high costs of agricultural inputs and labour, resulting in high production costs, thus lower production. The situation has been further exacerbated by the flooding situation from August to September 2020, that resulted in widespread destruction of cropland across most parts of the country.
IPC’s updated projection estimates that that 7.1 million people (16 per cent of the population) will face acute food insecurity in December 2020. This is an increase of about 700,000 people compared to an earlier estimate of 6.4 million food insecure people between October and December 2020.
Meanwhile, the preliminary findings of the mid-season assessment for the 2020/2021 agricultural season by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Food Security Technical Secretariat projects an average harvest. However, the high cost of production and transportation, together with the continuous macroeconomic changes, will contribute to drive above average prices. This will continue to reduce purchasing power and limit poor households’ access to food. Most of these households will likely continue using different coping strategies, including reducing their number of meals or consuming food of less quality. Food prices are expected to slightly decline with the beginning of the harvest in November and December, but they will remain higher than last year and five-year averages. Sorghum and millet prices will remain 207 per cent and 228 per cent higher respectively, compared to the same period last year, and 500 per cent above the five-year average throughout the projection period. At the same time, the government decision of lifting fuel subsidies — which has already led to an increase in transportation costs — is expected to increase the cost of harvesting/threshing, which in turn will increase the prices of harvested goods.
There are also food security concerns in areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. At least 43 per cent of people in SPLM-N areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states were acutely food insecure during August-October (IPC Phases 3 and 4) as a result of high food prices and poor agricultural production, according to the Food Security Monitoring Unit (FSMU). The FSMU is an independent international NGO monitoring food security levels through a network of local monitors, in SPLM-N areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The price of sorghum, a staple food, remains well above the norm for this time of year and, due to the relatively poor agricultural performance, is likely to remain high until January 2021.
Against this drop back, humanitarian agencies have provided 7 million people with food and livelihood assistance between January to September 2020, according to the preliminary results of the Periodic Monitoring of the Sudan 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan.