Global food prices peak in more than a decade

The UN barometer of world food prices has reached a new high, reaching its highest level since July 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said Thursday.

The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks international prices for a basket of food items, is up 3.9% from September, rising for the third consecutive month.

Overall grain prices rose 3.2 percent, with wheat rising 5 percent, due to lower crops in major exporting countries, including Canada, Russia and the United States. The prices of all other major grains have also increased.

The vegetable oil index rose 9.6 percent to an all-time high, and dairy products rose 2.6 points, with increased demand for butter, skimmed milk powder and whole milk powder, as buyers try to replenish low stocks. In contrast, cheese prices remained stable.

For the third consecutive month, the meat index fell, amid reduced purchases of pork products from China and a sharp decline in beef from Brazil. Prices for poultry and sheep have increased.

After six consecutive monthly increases, sugar prices also fell 1.8%, amid limited global demand and large surpluses destined for export.

Record cereal production

Compared to last year, world cereal production for 2021 is expected to increase to a new record high of some 2,793 million tonnes.

Global grain consumption for 2021/22 is heading for a 1.7% gain, driven by an expected increase in global wheat food consumption, increasing alongside a growing global population.

Food and climate

The production, distribution and consumption of all this food uses about a third of the world’s total energy, according to a new report launched Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

Food for the world’s population is also responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it a priority in the fight against climate change.

The report, Renewable Energies for Agrifood Systems – Towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, shares several examples of how this can be accomplished.

Solar irrigation, for example, can improve access to water, allowing multiple crop cycles and increasing resilience to changes in rainfall patterns.

In India, the use of solar irrigation pumps has increased farmers’ incomes by at least 50 percent compared to when rain was the only option. In Rwanda, the yields of smallholder farmers have increased by about a third.

In a video message, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said the report “shows that there are many opportunities to implement renewable energy solutions in agrifood systems”.

Break down silos

The publication also provides recommendations, including better data collection to guide renewable energy investments, better access to finance and a greater focus on awareness raising and capacity building.

Not only does one third of agri-food emissions come from energy consumption (fuel for agricultural machinery, for example), but this number increased by 20% between 2000 and 2018.

According to the report, this growth was mainly driven by mechanization in Asia, such as irrigation pumps, agricultural machinery, processing equipment and inputs such as fertilizers.

Energy consumption in Africa, home to around 15% of the world’s population, has remained largely constant, and represents only about 4% of world consumption.

The report is the result of a joint effort between FAO and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

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