In developing countries, food is costly. For years now, World Food Programme economists and statisticians have shown how the price – not just the shortage – of food often can explain why hunger is so hard to beat. Conflict, market distortions, disrupted supply chains, poor governance and climate challenges, among others, contribute to the problem.

As we at WFP continued to work on this issue of affordability, our teams came up with the idea of a global index that would show the relative cost of a basic plate of food against a single baseline. To enable people to relate to what something truly costs, in terms of one’s purchasing power, we shifted the focus from the nominal price to the price as perceived by those who would purchase the product.  

The results of our research are, in many cases, staggering: if you thought that a meal was expensive in, say, Norway – well, try Malawi. More directly, consider this counter-intuitive fact: once income differentials are accounted for, food that might cost you as little US$1.20 in New York would set you back US$321 in South Sudan.

You aren’t alone if that shocks you. I could hear gasps in the audience at a UN General Assembly event in September 2017 when I cited those figures. Hearing them changes one’s perspective, shining a stark light on just how difficult it is for so many to simply purchase food for themselves and their families.

Over the coming months, as we continue to provide both emergency and systemic food assistance around the world, we hope to expand our index beyond the current 33 nations. If we are serious about reaching Zero Hunger, the first step is knowing how far we must travel.


Q&A: What is the Plate of Food Index?

Arif Husain is the Chief Economist at the World Food Programme. He explains that People think hunger is just about lack of food; but very often, hunger is about lack of money.

The relative cost: click to expand