World food commodity prices made a significant leap in March to reach their highest levels ever, as war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported on Friday.
The FAO Food Price Index averaged 159.3 points in March, up 12.6 per cent from February when it had already reached its highest level since its inception in 1990.
The Index tracks monthly changes in the international prices of a basket of commonly-traded food commodities. The latest level of the index was 33.6 per cent higher than in March 2021.
The FAO Cereal Price Index was 17.1 per cent higher in March than in February, driven by large rises in wheat and all coarse grain prices largely as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine, combined, accounted for around 30 per cent and 20 per cent of global wheat and maize exports, respectively, over the past three years. World wheat prices soared by 19.7 per cent during the month, exacerbated by concerns over crop conditions in the US.
Meanwhile, maize prices posted a 19.1 per cent month-on-month increase, hitting a record high along with those of barley and sorghum. Contrasting trends across the various origins and qualities kept the March value of FAO's Rice Price Index little changed from February, and thus still 10 per cent below its level of a year earlier.
The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index rose 23.2 per cent, driven by higher quotations for sunflower seed oil, of which Ukraine is the world's leading exporter.
Palm, soy and rapeseed oil prices also rose markedly as a result of the higher sunflower seed oil prices and the rising crude oil prices, with soy oil prices further underpinned by concerns over reduced exports by South America.
The FAO Sugar Price Index rose 6.7 per cent from February, reversing recent declines to reach a level more than 20 per cent higher than in March 2021. Higher crude oil prices were a driving factor, along with currency appreciation of the Brazilian Real, while favorable production prospects in India prevented larger monthly price increases.
The FAO Meat Price Index increased by 4.8 per cent in March to reach an all-time high, led by surging pig meat prices related to a shortfall of slaughter pigs in Western Europe.
International poultry prices also firmed in step with reduced supplies from leading exporting countries following avian flu outbreaks.
The FAO Dairy Price Index rose 2.6 per cent and was 23.6 per cent higher than in March 2021, as quotations for butter and milk powders rose steeply amid a surge in import demand for near and long-term deliveries, especially from Asian markets.