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Rising cereal costs hitting Africa’s poor
Prices of food, particularly cereals, rose sharply in 2006 and in some cases have been increasingly at an even faster pace in 2007, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned in November. The UN agency says several factors will keep prices rising in coming years, including higher oil costs, the effects of climate change on agriculture and the greater use of maize and other cereals for producing bio-fuels, which has increased cereal demand. The higher prices, says Henri Josserand, head of FAO’s early warning unit, are already causing “big problems of access for people in some West African countries this year.”
The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which distributes food aid to vulnerable populations, has also drawn attention to the impact. “WFP’s food costs have gone up 50 per cent in the last five years alone,” reports WFP Director Josette Sheeran. “We’re expecting over the next two years for that to go up another 35 per cent, but in some markets over the past six months we have had increases of over 40 per cent.”
Higher global prices hit countries that depend on imports especially hard. Prices of rice, a staple in Guinea-Bissau, went up 40 per cent in 2007, compared with the year before. The cost of wheat in Senegal and Mauritania has gone up by 75 per cent, says the US-funded Famine Early Warning System Network.
The Senegalese government has responded by cutting import tariffs on wheat, but there was still a 12 per cent increase in the cost of bread between October and November alone. In Morocco similar hikes led to food protests in which 50 people were injured. Millers in Botswana have cited higher production costs, due mainly to the prices of imported oil and wheat, for increases in the price they must charge for maize meal and bread.
In the short-term, some African farmers may benefit, notes Ms. Sheeran. Increased demand has pushed up prices for alternative food crops, such as cassava. But there is a danger, she adds, that increased competition may lead to higher exports of such foods and make them unaffordable to poor people locally.
“With food prices at their highest level in decades, many people are simply being priced out of the food market,” says Ms. Sheeran. “These problems are not given adequate attention in the West.”
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj, Denmark’s former UN ambassador, head of the UN Mission in Liberia. At the time of her appointment, she was serving as Denmark’s ambassador to the Czech Republic. At the UN, Ms. Løj co-chaired the General Assembly’s Working Committee on the Peacebuilding Commission in 2005. She also formerly chaired the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee on Liberia.
Mr. Alan Doss of the UK has been named by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Doss served as special representative in Liberia from 2005 to 2007. He previously served as deputy special representative in Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, among other positions.
Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah of Mauritania has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative for Somalia. From 2002 to 2007, Mr. Ould-Abdallah headed the UN Office in West Africa (UNOWA) and was chairman of the commission established to implement the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the territorial dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria. Previously, he was the executive secretary of the Global Coalition for Africa, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, and as Mauritania’s minister of foreign affairs. The UN Secretary-General has temporarily assigned General Lamine Cissé of Senegal as officer-in-charge of UNOWA.
Mr. Choi Young-jin of the Republic of Korea has been appointed the UN Secretary-General’s special representative in Côte d’Ivoire, replacing Mr. Pierre Schori of Sweden. Mr. Choi was previously his country’s permanent representative to the UN and vice-minister of foreign affairs and trade. He has also served as UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations.
Mr. Ashraf Jehangir Qazi of Pakistan has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative for Sudan. Prior to this appointment, he served as UN special representative in Iraq. A former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, Mr. Qazi has also held various other diplomatic assignments, including in China, Japan, Egypt and Libya.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. François Lonsény Fall of Guinea as his special representative and head of the UN Peace Building Office in the Central African Republic. Since 2005, he had been the special representative in Somalia. Mr. Fall was prime minister of Guinea in 2004 and served as minister for foreign affairs and cooperation from 2002 to 2004. He has also been his country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York.
Former Nigerian finance and foreign minister Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed as the new managing director of the World Bank. Effective 1 December 2007, she will be responsible for the Bank’s operations in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia, as well as for human resources. Prior to her ministerial career in Nigeria, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was vice-president and corporate secretary of the World Bank Group.