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Food insecurity shocks are threatening to exacerbate critical debt woes in Sub-Saharan Africa, just as it’s on the hook to repay record amounts of debt starting this year through 2025, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
Soaring global food prices, and other impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, have ushered in one of the worst food crises in Africa in decades, with the UN estimating earlier this year that more than a quarter of a billion people on the continent were experiencing hunger.
“Food insecurity shocks will be a recurrent source of credit risk,” Mickaël Gondrand, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, said in a note to clients on Tuesday. “Our analysis finds Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, and Ethiopia among the most exposed and vulnerable countries.”
Food shocks affect credit quality through various channels, Gondrand said, as a wider import bill adds to pressures on the current-account balance and FX reserves. Financing constraints then eventually lead to shortages, he said.
Sub-Saharan governments outside of Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s two largest economies, have external bond coupons totaling nearly $8-billion due by the end of 2024, with another $5-billion in principal payments coming due, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Bonds markets in Africa are already flashing warning signals, with the JPMorgan EMBIG Diversified Africa Sovereign Spread index crossing 1 000, the threshold widely considered to mark credits as “distressed,” in mid-March amid turmoil in the US and European banking systems. The spread was 963 as of Tuesday.
Zambia, Rwanda and Mozambique’s dollar bonds have all weakened this year. Ethiopia, which has a $1-billion principal payment due in December, has outperformed with a 15.9% return.