Rome, 4th March, 2016 (WAM) – Overall food prices stayed put on the month in February, as falling sugar and dairy prices offset a spike in vegetable oil prices, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO’s Food Price Index, a trade-weighted index tracking international market prices of major cereals, vegetable oils, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 150.2 points for the month, virtually unchanged from a revised 150.0 points in January, according to a news release from the agency. It was down 14.5 percent from a year ago.

Vegetable oil prices rose 8.0 percent from the previous month, with palm oil prices jumping 13 per cent on reports of falling inventories and a poor production outlook in the near future. Soy oil prices also firmed as a result.

Sugar prices declined 6.2 percent from January due to strong global inventories and improved crop conditions in Brazil, the world’s largest producer and exporter while dairy prices fell 2.1 percent on the month amid sluggish imports, especially by China.

Prices of the world’s staple grains were broadly stable. Cereal prices inched down only around half a percentage point from the previous month. It plunged 13.7 per cent from a year earlier. Wheat prices fell 1.5 percent, maize prices slipped only slightly, while rice prices ascended modestly.

Meat prices rose slightly on supply constraints for beef from Australia and the United States as well as support for private storage of pig meat in the European Union. Poultry prices fell, reflecting lower feed costs.

FAO also issued its first forecast for the world’s 2016 wheat harvest, projecting 723 million tonnes of total production, about 10 million tonnes below last year’s record output.

China and Pakistan are expected to sustain near-record wheat harvests, and India’s output is anticipated to recover, although FAO’s latest Cereal Supply and Demand Brief forecasts a 1.4 percent drop worldwide in 2016, due mainly to dry weather leading to reduced winter plantings in Russia and Ukraine.

WAM/tfaham