World food prices fell in February for the first time in four months due to a sharp fall in the export prices of vegetable oils, partly driven by fears the new coronavirus outbreak will slow global demand, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said Thursday.
The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in the international prices of commonly-traded food commodities, averaged 180.5 points in February, down 1.0 percent from the previous month but still 8.1 percent higher than a year earlier, the UN agency said.
The FAO Vegetable Oil Index dropped 10.3 percent from January, with international palm oil prices falling by even more on account of higher-than-expected output in Malaysia, a temporary drop in India's import demand and concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
The FAO Cereal Price Index slid 0.9 percent in February. Wheat prices were lower, reflecting well-supplied markets, while maize prices retreated as demand from the livestock feed sector dipped amid expectations of a weakening global economy.
In contrast, international rice prices rose over the month, buoyed by strong demand from buyers from the Far East and East African buyers.
The FAO Meat Price Index was down by 2.0 percent from January, influenced by reduced imports by China impacted by delays in cargo handling in ports. Poultry meat prices were also affected by lower imports from Asia while drought-induced slaughter in New Zealand put downward pressure on ovine meat price quotations.
The FAO Dairy Price Index rose 4.6 percent, led by surging price quotations for cheese, partly linked to reduced milk output in Australia. Milk powders, by contrast, dipped as logistical bottlenecks slowed purchases by China, the world's largest milk powder importer.
The FAO Sugar Price Index rose 4.5 percent amid prospects of lower production in India as well as in Thailand, combined with a strong global import demand, FAO said.