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Even Before Crisis, Affording Food a Challenge for Many

by Julie Ray and Cynthia English

Across 134 countries, a median of 26% said they could not buy food at times

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even before soaring food prices triggered protests in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Gallup surveys in 134 countries revealed that more than a quarter of people surveyed -- equivalent to roughly 1.3 billion -- were already struggling at times to afford food for their families.

As overall global food prices spiraled between 2005 and 2008, Gallup asked people worldwide whether there had been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food that their families needed.

Africans were by far the most likely to say they'd found themselves in this situation: a median of 54% said there were times in the past year when they couldn't afford the food their families needed. Regional medians are lower in Latin America (29%) and Asia (25%), but these percentages still represent millions of people.


Africans' struggles to afford food are all too apparent in the high percentages of people throughout the region who told Gallup there were times when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their families. Majorities in 18 of the 33 African countries surveyed said they've faced this situation.

Of the 37 countries the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) considers to be in a food crisis requiring external aid, 21 are in Africa. Several of these African countries are countries where Gallup found majorities reporting being unable to afford the food they need: Liberia (79%), Central African Republic (75%), Zimbabwe (71%), Sierra Leone (63%), Burundi (58%), Kenya (56%), and Chad (54%).

Latin America

Across the 24 Latin American countries studied, a median 29% of residents said there were times in the past year when they didn't have enough money to buy food for their families. At the country level, residents of the first and second-poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti and Nicaragua, were the most likely to report struggles to afford food.

In 2006 -- well before the deadly Haitian food riots this April -- 63% of Haitians and 53% of Nicaraguans surveyed said there were times when they didn't have enough money to buy food. Nearly half of the residents of the two countries' close neighbors, Dominican Republic (48%) and El Salvador (47%), said the same in mid-2007.


In Asia, home to two-thirds of the world's poor, a regional median percentage of 25% said there were times when they didn't have enough money to buy food. At the country level, Filipinos, Cambodians, and Georgians were the most likely to report struggles to afford food.

In India, which alone counts for the 50% of the world's hungry, 26% of residents said they were unable to afford food at times in the year prior to the survey.


In comparison with the rest of the world, Europeans are much less likely to say they had struggled at times to buy food for their families in the past year. In fact, no more than about a third of respondents in any one country said they faced this struggle. Residents of countries in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans were the most likely to report times when they didn't have enough money to buy food.

In Moldova, the only European country that the FAO has designated as a country in crisis because of "exceptional shortfall in aggregate food production/supplies," about a third of respondents (35%) report there have been times in the past year when they didn't have enough money to buy food. This is among the highest percentages reported in Europe, along with Ukraine (34%) and EU members Romania (33%) and Bulgaria (35%).

Bottom Line

The World Bank estimates that the world's poor spend an average of 50% to 75% of their income on food, which explains why food inflation hits them the hardest.

Because many around the world were already struggling before the last painful round of price hikes, as Gallup data indicate, the future looks increasingly bleak. The World Bank expects food prices to continue to rise this year and the next, a reality that would force more and more families to choose between food and other needs such as healthcare and education.

If families opt to buy less food or cheaper, less nutritious food, malnutrition or undernutrition may stunt their children's physical and mental development, which has negative implications for future generations and, in turn, the world.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted throughout 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Randomly selected sample sizes typically number 1,000 residents, aged 15 and older, in the 134 countries polled. In Angola and Congo (Kinshasa), surveys were conducted in urban areas. Surveys in Chad and Sudan did not include Darfur. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. The margin of error in countries in sub-Saharan Africa is ±5. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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