26 November 2012

Congo-Brazzaville: Imports, Corruption Drive Up Food Prices

Photo: Hugo Rami/IRIN
A traditional wooden boat floats on the Congo River of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Brazzaville — The Republic of Congo, which imports over US$240 million worth of food a year, has seen sharply rising staple food and fuel prices since the beginning of 2012, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a local consumer rights body.

A 25-litre tin of vegetable oil which sold in January 2012 for the equivalent of $32, is now going for $50, while less than 5kg of cassava has gone up from $1 to $2.6, according to Dieudonné Moussala, chairman of the Consumer Rights Association.

He also said the price of a litre of kerosene had risen from 70 US cents to $2.6 on the black market in the same period.

"I now buy a kilo of meat from the slaughterhouse for 3,500 CFA francs [$7], whereas it used to cost less than 2,000 [$4]," Carine Moutombo, 32, a mother of three, told IRIN.

"It is difficult to get by and eat one's fill. The cooking money is no longer enough," said Moutombo.

"All the prices of imported frozen products have increased because of corruption in the supply chain [from entry at the port of Pointe-Noire to small retailers]," said Moussala.

"There are too many unofficial taxes and too many checkpoints in the supply chain. Retailers and other importers are corrupt at all levels. In the end, they pass on any losses to poor consumers - hence the surge in commodity prices," said Moussala.

"While we have not found the solution to all the problems [related to imports] ... We still have a long way to go. That is why our country's struggle against food insecurity is key in terms of public policy," said Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Rigobert Maboundou in April. According to him the Congo is a "food-deficit country".

To limit imports and ensure food security, Congo launched in 2010 a US$26 million project to build "new agricultural villages". With this project, "we have halved the import bill for eggs. We produced 6.6 million eggs in 2011, while imports are estimated at 13 million eggs per year," said Maboundou.

In 2011, Congo also leased 180,000 hectares of arable land to a group of South African farmers who have managed to plant 1,200 hectares of maize.

"The Congo imports almost half of the essential commodities it needs. You need to know this to understand current soaring prices. Imported products contain imported inflation," André Kamba, chief of staff at the Ministry of Trade and Supply, told IRIN.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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