The Unequal Cost Of A Plate Of Food Around The World

There is a massive disparity in the cost of basic nourishment around the world and when people go hungry, it is often because the food is unaffordable. While people in developed nations tend to spend a relatively small share of their income feeding themselves and their families, those in poorer nations often have to set the bulk of their wages aside for food. The scale of the gulf in food costs was starkly illustrated by a World Food Programme (WFP) report which sought to measure the “true” cost of a plate of food across the world. The research measured the proportion of daily income that people spend on food in different countries before retro-projecting the ratio on to a resident of New York State.

It found that an average person living in New York would have to spend 0.6 percent of his or her daily income ($1.20) on ingredients to make a simple 600-kilocalorie bean stew. Someone in India would also find those ingredients readily affordable, paying $9.25 or 4.5 percent of daily income. In other regions, and especially across much of Africa, however, the situation is far grimmer. While someone in Haiti would have to set 35 percent of their daily earnings aside, costs in South Sudan would run to 155 percent of daily income. That would entail working for a day and a half for a simple plate of food, resulting in hunger. Even though South Sudan does have water and oil reserves as well as arable land and livestock, the country’s lack of infrastructure and seasonal flooding have caused severe interruptions in the transfer of food. The WFP found that the real price of a plate of bean stew in South Sudan would be $321.70.

Credit: Niall McCarthy for Forbes, 26 March 2018.