Food monitors are concerned that people in West African countries who rely on international imports of wheat and rice are going to struggle to buy enough to eat this year due to high commodity prices.
Poor global production of wheat means worldwide prices reached a record high in September 2007 and remained volatile in October. Rice prices have also risen steadily since January 2007 according to the FAO, and high fuel prices have added higher shipping costs .
"We're concerned," said Henri Josserand, head of the FAO's early warning unit in Rome. "We see that prices are going to be quite high and that's going to mean that there are big problems of access to food for people in some West African countries this year."
Mauritania and Senegal are the two countries in the region which rely the most on international markets rather than domestic farming. Wheat is a staple food in both but all of it is imported. Mauritania grows just 30 percent of the food its 3 million people need and imported wheat prices have exploded by over 75 percent there this year, from US$200 for a ton to US$356, according to the food monitoring group FEWSNET. Wheat is used to feed humans and animals in Mauritania.
"The main reason people moved to eating wheat was because it was less expensive. It became very important in basic diets," said Salif Sow, Sahel representative of FEWSNET.
In Senegal, the government has cut import tariffs on wheat yet there has still been a 12 percent increase in the cost of bread in the last month.
In Guinea Bissau, where imported rice is a staple, there is also a concern. The World Food Programme has warned that prices for rice have increased by 40 percent in 2007 compared to 2006.
"Good harvests in one country in West Africa does not necessarily mean food security for the people that live there as West Africa's highly integrated markets mean food moves freely from one country to another."
A large part of the grain grown in Niger will pass over the border to Nigeria , and Niger could be left with a shortage as happened in the major crisis in 2005. In that instance, much of the grain grown in Niger was found to have been used to feed chickens in some of Nigeria's vast chicken farms, even as people starved in Niger.
Once again , experts confirm that the capitalist market of buying and selling does not satisfy the basic human needs of society .