Rising food prices leave Africa fighting Ebola on empty stomachs (Uganda)

KAMPALA—After the price of corn in Uganda leapt 15% recently, Hakim Waiswa could only afford to cook the local corn-flour staple, posho, once a day — making up his seven children’s only meal.
“Life is very hard,” said the 40-year-old mechanic and single father. “We are sleeping on empty stomachs.”
Food prices are rising in Africa, defying a global trend as the Ebola epidemic and other disturbances push some staples to five-year highs. As a result, millions of Africans are struggling to feed themselves, raising concerns about malnutrition and even social unrest.
In 2011, residents of big cities in Mozambique, Senegal and other African countries rioted to protest price increases of as much as a third for some staple grains amid rising fuel prices. This year, from Ebola-ravaged West Africa to South Africa, prices for corn, rice and beans have risen more than 20%.
The falling value of many African currencies against the US dollar is exacerbating the trend, said Jack Allen of Capital Economics.
“Even if currencies do not continue to fall, import-price inflation is likely to remain high for some time,” he said.
Although more than half of Africans farm for a living, many countries on the continent are net importers of staples like rice and corn, leaving their poor citizens vulnerable when prices rise or their currencies weaken.
According to the United Nations, some 20 million people in Central and East Africa are now facing emergency food shortages this year as conflicts and adverse weather conditions disrupt farming and harvests, up from 15 million in 2013. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three West African nations battling the worst Ebola outbreak on record, USAID said 60% of the population was facing a food crisis.
South African Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus warned in September that such wage increases could feed a vicious cycle that pushed up inflation even further. “Excessive wage settlements could have adverse impacts on employment, inflation and the general competitiveness of the economy,” she said.
The worst Ebola outbreak in history has trumped all of these pressures. The World Health Organization says the virus killed more than 3,400 people by early October. – Wall Street Journal online