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The World’s Most Expensive Plate of Food

October 17, 2017 Dining No Comments Email Email

The cost of a plate of food in the world’s poorest countries can reach hundreds of US dollars in purchasing power equivalent, new research from the World Food Programme and Mastercard has shown. The study found that people in developing countries face having to pay up to a day’s earnings for one basic meal – even more in cases of civil conflict or economic collapse.*

The differences with the rich world are stark. Take New York State, the baseline for the Counting the Beans: the True Cost of Food around the World. There, a simple plate of food such as a bean stew costs US$1.20 to make. This represents 0.6% of average daily income. By contrast, in South Sudan, the worst-ranking country in the study, a plate of food costs 268 times this ratio, or the equivalent of $321.70. The study also calculates the percentage of average daily income it takes in each given country to purchase a simple plate of food.

The study’s conclusions have strengthened Mastercard’s resolve to reach its goal, announced as part of a global initiative, of  providing over 100 million meals to those in need around the world.

The worst-scoring countries and territories, according to the study, are:

  1. SOUTH SUDAN: A plate of food relative to New York (NY) income costs $321.70.
  • A huge 155% of Sudanese average daily income is needed to purchase a simple plate of food
  1. NIGERIA: A plate of food relative to NY income costs $200.32.
  • 121% of Nigerian average daily income is needed to purchase a simple plate of food
  1. DEIR EZZOR, SYRIA: A plate of food relative to NY income costs $190.11.
  • 115% of Syrian average daily income is needed to purchase a simple plate of food.
  1. MALAWI: A plate of food relative to NY income costs $94.43.
  • 45% of Malawian average daily income is needed to purchase a simple plate of food.
  1. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: A plate of food relative to NY income costs $82.10.
  • 40% of Congolese average daily income is needed to purchase a simple plate of food.

“Without food we cannot live, learn or grow,” said Ann Cairns, President International, Mastercard. “At Mastercard, we are harnessing technology and resources to improve lives and end the cycle of poverty. Our commitment to deliver 100 million meals, and our partnership with WFP, will help bring closer a world free of hunger.”

Every day, 815 million people go hungry. Other WFP research supported by Mastercard’s data experts has found a direct link between nutritious school meals and academic achievement and productivity in later life. Children who benefited from a 10-year school meals project in Sri Lanka went on to earn 5% more as working adults. A cost-benefit analysis also found that every US$1 invested in school meals brings an economic return of US$3 to US$10.

“Parents often face agonising choices”, Cairns added. “Should they send children out to work in order to feed the family, or send them to school and have the family starve? By sponsoring school meals, we allow children to stay in school, learn and become more productive working adults. Families, communities and ultimately entire economies prosper.”

“The research in Counting the Beans is a stark reminder of how conflict can create cruel inequalities in terms of access to food,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP. “Mastercard’s committed partnership has enabled us to dig deeper into what is behind these issues, and we have been able to present pioneering solutions that can offset some of the worst repercussions of the conflicts, disasters and food supply chain problems that lead to food insecurity.  Counting the Beans illustrates just how urgent it is that the world mobilize to stop conflicts and get us closer to our goal of ending hunger by 2030.”

Mastercard and WFP want to highlight some of the real reasons countries often end up in a vicious cycle of poverty, such as conflict and insecurity, fragmented supply chains and infectively stored crops due to lack of technology. In turn, the partnership aims to provide innovative programmes, such as free, nutritious school meals, to help alleviate some of the more complex problems behind poverty and hunger and halt this continuous poverty cycle.

A standard meal was put together – a stew made of beans or other pulses, paired with a carbohydrate component that matches local preferences. The quantity of each ingredient was worked out, and estimates made of the total weight of purchased food items and final edible weight of the meal. The cost of the ingredients for a single serving was calculated in the national currency of each country covered. An average daily budget per person was estimated in the local currency, derived from national GDP per capita figures. Where these were unavailable, alternative data sources were used. The meal-to-income ratio was calculated, providing the proportion of the daily budget spent to purchase one serving of the meal. A theoretical price was then calculated by retrospectively applying the meal-to-income ratio for an individual in a developing country to the daily budget of a New York consumer.

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