BAMAKO, MALI — The Western African nation of Mali has indefinitely suspended grain exports to protect its food supply as the United Nations said hunger is worsening in the area, Reuters reported, citing the Mali minister of trade and industry.

Mali is a major exporter of grains to neighboring countries, exporting between 10% and 15% of its production.

The suspension comes on the heels of a bad growing season and a shortage of rice and other grains on the international market.

Millions of people in West and Central Africa need food help every year. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse due to higher food prices and economic downturn in many countries.

Millions of people need food assistance every year in West and Central Africa due to drought, conflict and poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse, with heightened food prices and an economic downturn in many countries.

People are worried about the cost of food, which is 30% to 40% higher than the rest of the world, said a senior adviser for West and Central Africa region of the UN World Food Program.

Mali's export ban came into effect on Dec. 6, according to a ministerial decree. It applies to local rice and maize, which make up the bulk of Mali's cereal production, as well as cottonseed, cottonseed meal, millet and sorghum, Reuters said.