By: Uma Ramiah, Voice of America (originally for radio)
Rising gas prices, demand for bio-fuels and poor harvests have all contributed to rocketing food prices around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa where most people spend a majority of their income on food, even the smallest rise in food prices puts a serious strain on African families. Uma Ramiah has more from Dakar.
A lively debate has sprung up between Abdou Ndoye and street-side vendors hawking green apples and spotty mangoes on a dusty street of the Senegalese capital.
When Ndoye suggests what he thinks is a fair price for four of the mangoes, the three women sitting behind a rough wooden table before him throw their hands in the air and laugh. They tell him the price is now twice what it was two months ago.
Abdou, a taxi driver in the beachside capital asks the women why they think life is becoming so expensive in the city. They say the government is not doing enough, and also blame bad harvests.
But they are convinced of one thing: if the price of food continues to climb at such rates, there will be trouble in Senegal.
Soaring food costs have prompted unrest across West Africa. In Dakar last week, police cracked down on rioters protesting the rising cost of staple goods including rice, oil and milk. Nearby Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mauritania have each seen angry citizens take to the streets to protest mounting prices.
And though the rising food costs are a global trend, the effects are felt sharply in sub-Saharan Africa where most people survive on around two dollars a day.
Abdou, speaking of how far his money must stretch these days, spots a potential client walking on the side of the road. Sembou Diallo waves Abdou's taxi down.
While peering out the window at an enormous hotel construction project, he says what is happening to ordinary citizens is not fair. "If food prices rise while salaries remain paltry, people will have no options," he explains.
The city has become too expensive, and frustration is growing, he goes on.
Diallo works a good job for a security company in Dakar, but says on his salary, which used to be more than enough, he is having trouble feeding his family.
The price of rice and cooking oil has doubled in the last three months.
Abdou's next client, Lamine Sonko, is a friend. He works at a school for handicapped children making $100 a month. Riding in the taxi, he agrees that while the government spends millions constructing shiny new buildings and roads, regular people struggle.
People are starting to think riots are the only way to get the government's attention now, he says.
Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade, in an Independence Day address to the nation this week, announced new measures meant to ease the pain of rising costs.
He says the government has set aside 500 million local CFA francs, or about $1.2 million, to open new food stores with controlled prices to protect consumers from vendors who would unfairly increase costs. He said the government will also cut taxes on civil servant salaries.
The Senegalese government imports almost all of its food. President Wade told his country that in a push towards self-sufficiency, Senegal also needs to start growing its own rice