The global benchmark for food prices hit a record hit in February, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The FAO index tracks the monthly changes in international prices of common food types.

Last month, the index averaged 140.7 points - that is an increase of over 24% compared to February 2021 and a monthly jump of almost 4% from January.

Food price index

The FAO Vegetable Oils Price Index led the increase, rising 8.5% from the previous month to reach a new record high. This was mostly driven by increased quotations for palm, soy and sunflower oils.

There was sustained global import demand for such products which coincided with supply issues, including reduced palm oil availability from the leading world exporter; Indonesia.

The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 6.4% higher in February compared to the previous month due to import demand and milk supplies from western Europe and Oceania being below expectations.

The FAO Cereal Price Index increased 3% from January, led by rising quotations for coarse grains, with international maize prices up 5.1%.

This is because of uncertainty caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and concerns about crop conditions in South America.

World wheat prices increased by 2.1%, largely reflecting uncertainty about global supply flows from Black Sea ports. Strong demand saw international rice prices rise by 1.1%.

The FAO Meat Price Index increased by 1.1% in a month. International bovine meat quotations reached a new record high driven by strong demand and tight supplies of slaughter-ready cattle in Brazil.

The FAO Sugar Price Index dropped by almost 2% as production prospects from major exporting countries improved.

Cereal supply and demand

Meanwhile, the FAO's latest cereal supply and demand report is forecasting an increase in global wheat and maize production this year.

Global cereal utilisation in 2021/2022 is now seen at 2,802 million tonnes, a 1.5% annual increase. World cereal stocks are forecast to grow slightly over the year to 836 million tonnes.

Based on those estimates, the stocks-to-use ratio would stand at just over 29%. FAO outlined that this would be an eight-year low, but would still indicate "an overall comfortable supply level".

FAO also raised its forecast for world trade in cereals to 484 million tonnes, up nearly 1% from the 2020/2021 level.

However, FAO noted that this forecast does not include potential impacts from the conflict in Ukraine, which it is closely monitoring.