Rising Food Prices in Africa: Consumers and authorities back competition action to tackle unfair food prices

12 April 2023

All around the world, rising food prices are putting consumers under pressure – leaving hundreds of millions facing severe hunger, and forcing many more to rely on less safe and nutritious food. This challenge is particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where staple food prices increased by an average of 23.9% between 2020-2022, and more than 90% of the population cannot afford a healthy diet.

Food prices have been inflated by disruptions to production and supply – linked to conflict, climate crisis, and COVID-19 – but there is also strong evidence that anti-competitive practices are driving up consumer prices even further, while undermining the livelihoods of small-scale producers.

Consumers International – with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation – is working with consumer organisations across Africa to raise the alarm on this threat, and to collaborate with authorities to take decisive action. This new project, Consumer Voice for Fair Food Prices, aims to strengthen the evidence base and facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration on this critical issue.

Dialogues for Change: Competition Authorities and Consumer Organisations Explore Solutions

Consumers International brought together competition authorities and consumer organisations across 21 African countries, to emphasise how people across the continent are being affected, understand current solutions, and initiate a collaborative partnership. Participants working at national level shared their experiences of taking action against anti-competitive practices such as excessive pricing, price gouging, and price fixing; while regional authorities and global experts highlighted the importance of closer collaboration – across borders and between stakeholders – to tackle unfair food prices.

The dialogues demonstrated the scale of the challenge facing us, but provided a pathway forward to deepen the solutions. Key findings included:

1. Rising food prices are threatening food and nutrition security across Africa.
This challenge of food and nutrition insecurity has intensified in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – but is also rooted in long-established issues such as the impact of climate crisis, and the inadequacies of our overconcentrated, import-dependent food systems. On top of the hundreds of millions going hungry, large numbers of consumers are now less able to afford safe and healthy food, and the impact is felt disproportionately by those who are already vulnerable.

2. Anti-competitive practices exacerbate the problem.
Some supply chain actors appear to be taking advantage of supply shocks to engage in price gouging, while other anti-competitive practices – such as excessive pricing (abusing market dominance to set unreasonably high prices) and price fixing (colluding with competitors to keep prices high) – have long been on the agenda of national and regional authorities. Emergency protections such as price controls and consumer subsidies must be complemented by strengthened competition and consumer protection legislation and enforcement.

3. There is a shortage of comprehensive evidence on unfair pricing, due to the complexity of this issue.
Many competition authorities and consumer organisations are already monitoring prices, but the availability of data is variable, and providing clear evidence of ‘unfair’ prices and anti-competitive practices remains highly difficult. Consumer groups have the potential to provide an early warning system for instances of unfair prices, enabling competition authorities to investigate and act – but both groups need further support to make this possible.

4. Closer collaboration is needed between consumer groups and competition authorities.
Building a truly effective response to the issue of unfair food pricing requires the genuine inclusion of consumer voices in competition governance. Consumer organisations in many countries are already making valuable contributions towards price monitoring, awareness raising, and policy development and implementation; while in other cases there is still an urgent need for improved consumer and competition legislation, as well as dedicated and well-resourced authorities.

5. Stronger alignment across sectors and borders can deliver more coherent and impactful competition governance.
Unfair food prices are not just a matter for competition authorities but are also deeply relevant to the challenges faced by ministries of trade, agriculture, health, environment, and more. As a cross-cutting threat, this requires a co-ordinated response. International collaboration is also key to any solution – both to share learnings and experiences, and to respond appropriately to anti-competitive practices that extend across borders.

6. A food systems approach is essential to tackling unfair food prices.
Competition action is essential to deliver fairer food prices, but it is not sufficient; complementary solutions range from agricultural diversification and strengthened access to markets, through to infrastructure investments and improved food environments. All these actions must be rooted in local contexts and needs and delivered as part of a wholesale transformation of food systems, to put people and planet first.

Next Steps

These dialogues provided invaluable insights on the problem of unfair food prices, and helped to build and deepen connections between stakeholders, offering a launchpad for enhanced collaborative action on this issue.

Throughout 2023 and beyond, Consumers International will continue working with consumer organisations across Africa to deliver action on unfair food prices, through the following activities:

  1. Building the evidence base on unfair food prices
    We will support consumer organisations and other civil society groups to make effective use of existing pricing data – and to collect additional data where needed – to identify potential instances of unfair pricing, and to report these to competition authorities.
  1. Collaborating with competition authorities to tackle unfair food prices
    We will continue to build bridges between consumer groups, competition authorities, and other key governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, to co-create actions and solutions to tackle unfair food prices and deliver cross-cutting benefits for all.
  1. Strengthening consumer understanding of unfair food prices
    We will help draw consumers’ attention to the issue of unfair food pricing, and the role of anti-competitive practices in driving up food prices, to build support for action from authorities, and ensure that consumers are aware of – and empowered to stand up for – their rights in the marketplace.

To learn more about the project, collaborate with us on the activities, or to help highlight the issue at national, regional and global level, contact the project lead Davine Minayo at DMinayo@consint.org.

Here’s who took part in our dialogues and what they think of the food prices crisis

Consumers International | African Union of Consumers | United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) | World Trade Organization (WTO) | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) | Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission | East African Community (EAC) Competition Authority | West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) | Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission, Burkina Faso |Ministry of Trade, Côte d’Ivoire | Consumer Protection Agency, Egypt | Eswatini Competition Commission | Directorate of Competition and Consumer Affairs, Gabon | Gambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission | Ghana International Trade Commission | Competition Authority of Kenya | Competition and Fair Trading Commission, Malawi | Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Nigeria | Ministry of Trade, Uganda | Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Zambia | Benin Santé et Survie des Consommateurs | Botswana Consumer Center for Advocacy, Research, and Orientation | Association Burundaise des Consommateurs, Burundi | Association pour la Défense de Droits des Consommateurs, Chad | Fédération des Associations de Consommateurs de Côte d’Ivoire | Consumer Protection Association of the Gambia | Consumer Advocacy Centre, Ghana | Kenya Consumers Organisation | Youth Education Network, Kenya | Consumers Association of Malawi | Regroupement pour la Défense des Consommateurs du Mali | Namibia Consumer Protection Group | Association de Défense des Droits des Consommateurs, Niger | Consumer Advocacy and Empowerment Foundation, Nigeria | Consumer Awareness Organisation, Nigeria | Rwanda Consumers Rights Protection Organization | Sudanese Consumers Protection Society | Consumer Education Trust, Uganda