Global spending on food imports is expected to reach a record $1.94 trillion in 2022, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warned Friday, a 10 percent jump compared to the previous year due to rising prices.
The new forecast would mark "an all-time high", and is due to the depreciating values of currencies against the US dollar -- the main currency of exchange on international markets -- as well as Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia are agricultural superpowers, with more than 30 nations reliant on them for wheat and sunflower oil exports.
"The bulk of the increase in the (global food import) bill is accounted for by high-income countries, due mostly to higher world prices, while volumes are also expected to rise," the report said.
Consequences will be more dramatic for economically vulnerable countries, it added.
"For instance, the aggregate food import bill for the group of low-income countries is expected to remain almost unchanged even though it is predicted to shrink by 10 percent in volume terms, pointing to a growing accessibility issue for these countries," the FAO said.
Sub-Saharan Africa, already hard-hit by malnutrition, is expected to spend $4.8 billion more on food imports, despite a decrease in volumes.
"These are alarming signs from a food security perspective," FAO said.
Russia's war in Ukraine
Between Russia and Ukraine, the two countries account for 30 percent of the world wheat trade and 78 percent of sunflower oil exports prior to the Kremlin's invasion of its neighbour. The ongoing eight-month conflict pushed grain prices to unprecedented levels.
The opening of a secure maritime corridor has allowed more than 10 million tonnes of agricultural products to leave Ukraine in recent months, leading to a cautious decline in market prices.
Another easing factor is that world wheat production "should reach a record level of 784 million tons in 2022/23", the FAO said, driven in particular by the Russian and Canadian crops.
But other factors are weighing heavily on the balance of poor importing countries, warns the FAO, like the global import bill for agricultural inputs.
In particular, fertiliser imports are expected to reach $424 billion in 2022, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to the year before.
Russia is one of the world's leading exporters of gas and nitrogen fertilisers, and prices have tripled in one year.
"As a result, some countries may be forced to reduce input applications, almost inevitably resulting in lower agricultural productivity and lower domestic food availability," the FAO said.
The "negative repercussions" for global food security is likely to extend to 2023.
The FAO has been advocating for months to establish a financing facility for countries heavily dependent on imports.
© Agence France-Presse