Declining food imports by most vulnerable countries a cause for concern: FAO

World food import bill to touch record high, but cost-of-living pressures may persist in 2023

By Shagun
Published: Friday 16 June 2023
High quotations for fruits, vegetables, sugar and dairy products are throwing cold water on demand, especially in the most economically vulnerable countries. Photo for representation: iStock

Food imports by vulnerable countries are expected to decline this year, raising concerns, according to a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). However, imports by advanced economies continue to expand and the global bill may reach a new record this year.

The food import bill for the least developed countries was predicted to decline by 1.5 per cent this year. Net food-importing developing countries may see a 4.9 per cent decline, the FAO said in its biannual report on global food markets released June 15, 2023.

The decline in food import volumes in both groups is a concerning development, suggesting a decline in purchasing capacity, said the report, Food Outlook

Lower international prices for a number of primary food items have not fully translated into lower costs at domestic retail levels, it also suggested, pointing out that cost-of-living pressures could persist in 2023.

Also read: Sustainable rice production key to food security

Even then, the world food import bill was forecast to reach a record high, said FAO. It estimated that the global food bill will rise to $1.98 trillion in 2023, up by 1.5 per cent from 2022. 

However, it is predicted to grow at a much slower pace compared to last year as prices rising globally dampen demand. The world food import bill rose by 11 per cent in 2022 and 18 per cent in 2021. 

The quotations for fruits, vegetables, sugar and dairy products are much higher, throwing cold water on demand, especially in the most economically vulnerable countries

Meanwhile, world rice production is forecast to rise by 1.3 per cent in 2023-24 to 523.5 million tonnes, while international trade is expected to drop by 4.3 per cent in volume terms to 53.6 million tonnes.

“The anticipated output increase mostly reflects positive incentives provided by generally higher producer prices, easing fertiliser costs and continuing government assistance measures,” the FAO said.

In contrast, wheat production in 2023 is expected to decline by 3 per cent from its all-time high of 777 million tonnes in 2022, mainly due to expected decreases in the Russian Federation and Australia as they registered record production last year.

Also read: 2022 too short, too far: How food systems evolved for the hungry

“The declines mostly reflect the likely impacts of extreme weather events, seen leading to lower planted areas,” it said. 

The latest report contained forecasts of production, trade, utilisation and stock levels across the world’s major basic foodstuffs. It pointed to likely increases in production across most categories, including rice, coarse grains, oilseeds, milk, sugar, meat and fish and fishery products. 

Notwithstanding this generally positive outlook, the global agrifood production systems remain vulnerable to shocks, the report said.

These shocks can stem from extreme weather events, geopolitical tensions, policy changes and developments in other commodity markets, “with the potential to tip the delicate demand-supply balances and impact prices and world food security”.

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