If you are a humanitarian food aid agency with limited resources, operating in Afghanistan and trying to access wheat supplies at the lowest prices, a new UN online tool can help you shop around.
A couple of clicks on the National Basic Food Prices Data and Analysis Tool, developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) can give you the price of food staples in 55 developing countries, in local currencies and measurements.
Generally, food is still expensive "but the price of wheat might be cheaper in neighbouring Pakistan, so the aid agency can import wheat from across the border," said Liliana Balbi, a senior economist at the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System.
"While food prices have fallen internationally, this tool shows that in developing countries they have not fallen so fast, or at all."
It took FAO some time to put the data together and present it graphically, "but it was critical for us to put it together, for example, to get a sense of the food prices in southern Sudan for aid workers and policy-makers to respond in time if it was too high," Balbi said.
The data shows that food prices in many countries have doubled in five years; poor people in developing countries spend as much as 60 to 80 percent of their earnings on food.
The price of staple grains like wheat, rice and maize have been climbing since January 2009, after falling from record levels at the same time in 2008, according to FAO. "International prices remain volatile," said Balbi.
Wheat prices are being pushed up because a smaller wheat harvest is expected in Argentina, a major producer, where the government has suspended export permits.
Rice prices have begun to climb since Thailand, the largest world's exporter, diverted some four million tons from the market to public inventories at a price reported to be 20 percent higher than market levels.
Maize prices are volatile because of dry conditions in Argentina and Brazil, and a lower demand for US maize.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions