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The global sugar industry is currently experiencing its highest prices since 2011, largely due to lower global supplies caused by arid weather conditions that affected harvests in India and Thailand, two of the world’s largest exporters of sugar.
It is uncertain if this price increase will affect the Caribbean at this point.
This is just one more challenge for developing nations already struggling with shortages of staple foods like rice, as well as food trade bans that have contributed to food inflation.
These factors have led to food insecurity, exacerbated by the climate phenomenon El Nino, the war in Ukraine, and weaker currencies. While wealthier Western nations can absorb the higher costs, poorer countries struggle to adapt.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is predicting a two percent decline in global sugar production in the 2023-24 season, compared to the previous year, resulting in a loss of approximately 3.5 million metric tons. Sugar is increasingly being used for biofuels like ethanol, which has led to global reserves of sugar being at their lowest since 2009.
Brazil, the largest sugar exporter, will only be able to help plug the gaps later in 2024. Until then, import-dependent countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa remain vulnerable.
Nigeria, for example, buys 98% of its raw sugar from other countries. It has banned imports of refined sugar this year and announced a $73-million project to expand sugar infrastructure, but these are longer-term strategies.
Abuja traders like Abba Usman are struggling now as the same bag of sugar that Usman bought for $66 a week ago now costs $81. As prices rise, Usman’s customers are dwindling.
The El Nino, a natural phenomenon that shifts global weather patterns and can cause extreme weather conditions ranging from drought to flooding, is partly to blame. Scientists believe climate change is making it stronger.
India, the world’s most populated nation and the largest consumer of sugar, is now restricting sugar exports. In Thailand, El Nino effects early in the growing season altered not just the quantity but also the quality of the harvest.
The Thailand Sugar Planters Association’s leader, Naradhip Anantasuk, predicts that only 76 million metric tons of sugarcane will be milled in the 2024 harvest season, compared to 93 million metric tons this year.
The US Department of Agriculture has predicted a 15% dip in output in Thailand in October.