The Future is Equal

Two-weeks increase in food billionaires’ wealth enough to fully fund East Africa hunger crisis response

Food inflation in some East African countries outstrips global average leaving millions hungry

Food inflation in East African countries where tens of millions of people are caught in an alarming hunger crisis has increased sharply, reaching a staggering 44 percent in Ethiopia – nearly five times the global average.

It is estimated that one person is dying every 48 seconds in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia alone, where the worst drought in decades is being exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and is pushing food prices to skyrocketing levels.

Against this backdrop, food billionaires have increased their collective wealth by US$382bn since 2020. Less than two weeks’ worth of their wealth gains, would be more than enough to fund the entirety of the US$6.2 billion UN appeal for East Africa, which is currently woefully funded at a mere 16 per cent.

Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam’s Food Policy Lead, said: “A monstrous amount of wealth is being captured at the top of our global food supply chains, meanwhile rising food prices contribute to a growing catastrophe which is leaving millions of people unable to feed themselves and their families. World leaders are sleepwalking into a humanitarian disaster.”

“We need to reimagine a new global food system to really end hunger; one that works for everyone. Governments can and must mobilise enough resources to prevent human suffering. One good option would be to tax the mega-rich who have seen their wealth soar to record levels during the past two years.

“This fundamentally broken global food system – one that is exploitative, extractive, poorly regulated and largely in the hands of big agribusinesses – is becoming unsustainable for people and the planet and is pushing millions in East Africa and worldwide to starvation.”

People in East Africa spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, and the region over-relies on imported staple food. For example, food and beverages account for 54 percent of CPI in Ethiopia, compared to just 11.6 percent in the United Kingdom. While many people in affluent countries are struggling with the increased consumer prices, their counterparts in East African countries are facing hunger and destitution.

  • In Somalia, maize prices were six times higher (78 percent) than global prices (12.9 percent) in May 2022 than they were 12 months before. In some regions, the minimum food basket expenditure has soared to over 160 percent compared to last year. The cost of one kilo of sorghum – a staple food – was more than 240 percent higher than the five-year average.  
  • In Ethiopia, food inflation soared by 43.9 percent since last year. Cereals prices increased by 70 percent in the year to May, more than double the global increase 
  • In Kenya, the price of maize flour, the main staple, has doubled in seven months and rose by 50 percent in just a month (between June and July 2022). Rising food and energy prices will increase poverty by 2.5 percent, pushing about 1.4 million Kenyans into extreme poverty.
  • In South Sudan cereals prices in May were triple their levels a year earlier, while the price of bread has doubled since last year. The average price of cereals has been higher than 30 percent of the five-year average.

In Bundunbuto village, Puntland, Somalia, families’ purchasing power has been halved compared with two months ago, meaning when they used to buy 25kg of rice and sugar, now they can only buy 13.5kg per month. 

In Somalia, where a “risk of famine” was recently declared, nearly half the population – over seven million people – face acute hunger, of whom 213,000 are at risk of famine.

Shamis Jama Elmi (38), a mother to a family of eight, moved from Barate to Docoloha displacement camp in 2017 because of the drought. The US$60 cash assistance she gets each month from Oxfam can only buy 12 kg of flour, rice and sugar to sustain her family for half a month. “We eat one meal a day and used to eat 3 times a day. We only eat rice with salt.”

Global food prices have hit a 50-year high and worldwide there are now 828 million people going hungry – 150 million more than at the start of the COVID pandemic. The Ukraine conflict has caused a huge spike in grain and energy prices but these have only worsened what was already an inflationary trend. This means, even when food is available, millions cannot afford to buy it.

Even within advanced economies like the US, the poorest 20 percent of the population are forced to spend four times more on food than the wealthiest 20 percent.

“Our broken global food system, and the inequality that underlies it, have wrought a war of attrition to millions of poor people who have lost their last purchasing power and can no longer afford to eat,” Saarinen said.

“To help those countries cope with rising food prices and the hunger crisis, rich nations must immediately cancel debt for those countries – which has doubled over the last decade– in order to enable them to free resources to deal with the skyrocketing hunger and to import needed grains. This money can and should be easily recovered by taxing the ultra-rich.”

To end the root causes of hunger, governments must better regulate food markets and ensure more flexible international trade rules in favor of the world’s most vulnerable consumers, workers and farmers. Governments and donors should support small-scale farmers who in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa provide more than 70 percent of the food supply .

 

 Notes to the Editor 

  • Food inflation over the last year in Ethiopia (44 percent,) Somalia (15 percent), and Kenya (12 percent) is exceeding the G7 (10 percent) and global average (9 percent). 
  • One year food inflation up until May 2022 for Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia was sourced from Trading Economics. The G7 average from the OECD (up to May 2022) and the global average from the ILO (the latest data available is up to March 2022). 
  • Data on food and agriculture billionaire wealth was drawn from Oxfam’s Profiting from Pain report and is for the period of March 2020 to March 2022. Two-weeks increase in food billionaires’ wealth would correspond to US$7.3 billion.
  • In Kenya, the price of maize flour, the main staple, doubled in seven months (KES 108 in Nov 2021 for 2kg packet; KES 210 in July 2022).  
  • To date, only US$9 million of the total US$6.157 billion UN appeal for Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Sudan (both HRP and FA) has been funded. This is a gap of 84 percent. Source: UN OCHA Appeals and response plans 2022 | Financial Tracking Service (unocha.org)
  • Grain prices are from FAO’s Food Price Monitoring and Analysis tool for May 2021-May 2022; and FAO’s Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin #5, 15 June 2022
  • Oxfam, together with partners is supporting the most vulnerable people in East Africa with lifesaving food, cash assistance and water and sanitation services. It aims to reach over 1.3 million of the most vulnerable people.
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