Food Price Volatility over the Last Decade in Niger and Malawi: Extent, Sources and Impact on Child Malnutrition

01 Feb 2012
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Summary

Recently, considerable attention has rightly been paid to the nutritional impact of the sharp hikes in international food prices which took place in 2007-8 and, again, in 2010-11. While sacrosanct, this growing focus has somewhat obscured the effect of other factors which do affect malnutrition in the Sub-Saharan Africa context, i.e. the long term impact of agricultural policies, huge and persistent seasonal variation in domestic food prices, and the impact of famines which still regularly stalk the continent. This paper focuses on the relative weight of these factors in explaining child malnutrition (proxied by the number of child admissions to feeding centers) in Malawi and Niger, two prototypical countries in the region. The analysis shows that the drivers of domestic food staple prices and of the ensuing child malnutrition have to be found not only – or not primarily – in the changes of international food prices but mainly in the impact of agricultural policies on food production, the persistence of a strong food price seasonality, and recurrent and often poorly attended famines. Indeed, even during years of declines in international food prices, these factors often exert a huge upward pressures on domestic food prices and child malnutrition.

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