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The losers in global conflict are always Africa’s poor

With the wars in Ukraine and Israel now on-going simultaneously, what will happen to the price of oil, and to food inflation? What does this mean for Africa’s fragile states? 

Africans shop for food at the local food market

In Africa, rising food prices hurt low-income consumers disproportionately, as they spend a larger percentage of their pay on food. (GRAIN International)

It’s simple. World conflicts tend to raise oil prices. Increases in the price of oil is inflationary, and tends to slow economic growth. Higher oil prices directly affect the prices of goods made with petroleum products, and impact the costs of both manufacturing and transportation. 

Simply put, a 1 percent increase in oil prices, raises food prices by 0.2 percent. One example of food inflation resulting from a surge in oil prices is as follows. Gasoline is made primarily of oil and ethanol, corn along with oil is an input. Rising oil prices, usually translates into higher corn prices. Corn is used to make various foods, but also animal feed. Increases in the price of oil, can cause animal feed prices to rise, and this increases the price of grains. When grains become more expensive, so does meat and dairy.

During the Libyan civil war in 2011, oil prices surged to $103 a barrel. The Iraq war in 2003, pushed oil prices to $121 a barrel, and the Arab oil embargo in 1973, raised oil prices to $157 a barrel. Depending on how high oil prices will become as a result of the wars in Ukraine and Israel, this will determine how high food prices will become, and the level of global food insecurity that will accompany it. 

In Africa, as elsewhere, rising food prices hurts consumers with low incomes. This is because households with low incomes spend a larger percentage of their pay on food. When oil prices rise, food becomes more expensive, and the poor will have to direct more of their incomes away from non-essentials to essentials. Depending on how high oil prices rise, those living in extreme poverty, in Africa’s fragile states, will find it even more difficult to survive as food prices surge.

African’s facing extreme poverty are the most vulnerable to food price escalations. If African children in fragile states below the age of 5 become severely malnourished, the consequences are dire. When children are consistently malnourished through childhood, they can develop lifelong learning disabilities. Children with a history of malnutrition perform worse, in comparison to their peers, in academic subjects like reading, languages, arithmetic, general science, and social science.

Wars take away the lives of innocent children directly affected by conflict. Wars also take away the future of innocent children indirectly affected by conflict. Global armed conflicts are always a threat to Africa’s poor, and to all children born to extreme poverty. 



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