Corn crop on a rural road in Indiana, USA. Widespread drought in the United States has resulted in higher maize and wheat costs. Photo by: Charles Knowles

Countries in the Sahel are not the only ones suffering from drought this year. The United States is also experiencing what may be its worst drought in nearly 25 years.

Moderate to extreme drought is currently being felt in about 53 percent of the Midwest, where corn crops are already being affected, according to Bloomberg. But the drought is even more widespread than that, affecting most parts of the Southwest and certain areas in the Southeast. More than 1,000 counties in 26 states, including corn producers Illinois and Indiana, are set to receive drought aid.

Because of shriveled crops, the cost of maize and wheat has increased over the past two weeks. Food security experts are concerned the higher cost of staple grains would force poor grain-importing countries to spend beyond their budget, IRIN reports. A global food crisis, however, isn’t in the cards yet as the “situation could still improve dramatically,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Higher costs would certainly have an impact on the operations of food aid agencies, although “at this point I will not be alarmist,” Maximo Torero of the International Food Policy Research Institute told IRIN. Torero, director at IFPI’s markets, trade and institutions division, said aid organizations don’t just provide raw staples but also combinations of nutritious products.

Further, the U.N. World Food Program has allocated up to $300 million for its Forward Purchase Facility this year, according to Jane Howard from WFP’s communications division. The facility allows the agency to buy food in advance, taking advantage of the time when market prices are low. It has helped in WFP’s emergency response in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, Howard told IRIN.

While the drought across the United States has not reached alarming levels — yet — for aid agencies, it does warrant attention. The tough financial climate has made it difficult for various organizations to raise enough funds for their food programs. An increasingly volatile market for staple grains would only exacerbate the challenge.

“We have calculated that a 10 percent increase in the price of the commodities in a typical WFP food basket costs us an additional US$200 million a year to buy the same amount of food,” Howard said. 

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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