The cost of food, fuel and fertiliser in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities is continuing to escalate to crisis levels since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with families spending up to 10 times what they paid almost 18 months ago, according to new analysis from international humanitarian organisation ActionAid.
A survey of more than 1,000 community members and leaders in 14 countries across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean found that prices of pasta and fertiliser rose by more than 115% over the period monitored, while costs of petrol and period pads increased by 80% or more, leading to soaring child marriage rates and worsening mental health.
This is despite the latest UN Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index* showing a 11.7% decline in global prices since February 2022.
Community leaders in 10 out of 11 of the countries surveyed** said that rates of child marriage were increasing in their local areas, while more than half of those surveyed said the price rises made them feel sad or hopeless (54% and 53% respectively), prompting concerns about the impact the crisis is having on families’ emotional wellbeing.
Alberta Guerra, Global Policy Analyst at ActionAid,said “This pioneering research shows that since the onset of the war in Ukraine, the most vulnerable people around the world are bearing the brunt of skyrocketing food, fuel and fertiliser prices, with women and girls the hardest hit.
Impact on food intake and education
They are disproportionally affected by multiple crises that impact their food intake, education, their right to live free from child marriage, and their mental health and wellbeing.”
ActionAid’s analysis found that Zimbabwe – where an estimated 2.8 million people are unemployed – has been hit particularly hard, with people in some districts reporting petrol prices rising by more than 900%, pasta prices rising by up to 750%, fertiliser costs rising by more than 700% and period pads costing more than 600% more.
Joy Mabenge, Country Director of ActionAid Zimbabwe, said “Food and fuel prices in Zimbabwe have been increasing on a near-daily basis, hitting the country’s many families who live below the poverty line the hardest.
In certain areas, some households cannot even afford one meal a day because the food prices have spun completely out of control, leaving many battling to keep their heads above water. They are literally living one day at a time, not knowing where their next meal will come from.”
Since the start of the war, in local markets and communities in the countries surveyed by ActionAid:
· Communities are on average now spending twice as much (101% more) on a loaf of bread (rising by up to 614% in the Binga district of Zimbabwe) and 119% more on pasta.
· Average prices for fertilisers rose by 118%.
· The cost of period pads soared by 83% on average
· The average cost of petrol increased by 80%.
· Sugar was up by an average of 59% (rising by more than 800% in Zimbabwe’s Binga district).
· Cooking oil was up by an average of 57% (rising by 224% in Somaliland’s Wajale district)
· Cooking gas was up by an average of 47% (rising by 216% in the Kwara area of Nigeria)
Almost a year and a half since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, the impact of the conflict is continuing to intensify in the world’s most vulnerable hunger hotspots. The price hikes are particularly alarming over a period when incomes have fallen nearly a quarter across the communities surveyed, or by 133% in one area of Ethiopia.
Almost three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed said that they had shifted their diets to low-quality food, while more than half (59%) said that people in their community had gone into debt.
Children’s education threatened
Children’s education prospects are also being threatened. Community leaders in 9 out of 11 countries** surveyed said that the increased cost of living had led to higher school drop-out rates for boys as parents struggle to afford school fees or are forced to rely on child labour to support their livelihoods, while leaders in 8 out of 11 countries said the same had happened for girls.
Roster Nkhonjera, a 40-year-old mother of five from Rumphi district in Malawi, had to take her children out of school due to debilitating living costs. “I have failed to pay school fees for my two children due to price hikes,” she says. “What I earn from my small business barely covers one meal a day for my children.”
However, the survey also revealed that many communities have shown resilience in tackling the impacts of the crisis, identifying and practising sustainable coping mechanisms. Community members in 12 of the 14 countries surveyed said that using agroecology was helping them to make savings on crop production. Agroecology means adopting farming practices that work with nature, such as using local manure to build soil fertility and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter (28%) of the community members surveyed said that they had installed solar power systems and made compost to offset the high prices of chemical fertilisers – a key component of industrialised farming systems – offering hope that such sustainable approaches might grow and continue to the benefit of the environment once the present crisis has subsided.
ActionAid is advocating for a holistic approach and adequate funding that tackles all interconnected crises exacerbating the price crisis, including climate change, debt stress, and the profound repercussions of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
Ms Guerra continues: “Social protection measures need to be urgently introduced, including free education services and free school meals, to assist the families who are most at risk.
“In the longer term, governments dependent on food imports must also invest in national and regional food reserves to act as buffers and reduce countries’ vulnerability to food shortages and price rises. The catastrophic impacts we are seeing make it clear why a just transition to renewable energy and agroecological farming practices is needed now more than ever, both to protect communities from shocks but also to offer resilience against the climate crisis. There is no time to waste.”