Written by Manya Shiel
The ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, which has intensified since it began in February, is leading to food crises in developing countries across the world. The stoppage of food exports from Ukraine has worsened pre-existing conditions.
The post-pandemic demand for food, extreme weather conditions, supply chain bottlenecks and export restrictions have negatively affected the food market. The invasion has added to the widespread inflation in food prices throughout the world, pushing the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index to an all-time high–the highest it has been since the index began in 1990.
The UN World Food Programme’s Executive Director, David Beasley, has said: “Conflict, the climate crisis, Covid-19 and surging food and fuel costs have created a perfect storm — and now we’ve got the war in Ukraine piling catastrophe on top of catastrophe.”
What countries are being affected and how?
Somalia is one of the countries facing the implications of the war. The country is facing an unprecedented shortage of wheat stemming from the halted exports from Russia and Ukraine, as the export route through the Black sea has been shut down since the war started on February 24.
According to the UN, the East African country has an estimated 13 million people facing severe hunger resulting from persistent drought. Ukraine, on the other hand, needs to export 22 million grains out of the country, as it needs space to store grain from the next harvest. However, Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports is halting the exports of corn, barley, rapeseed oil, and wheat.
Other African countries, which also have little say in the ongoing conflict, are affected too. In Egypt, bread is a staple. A meal without bread is not a real meal, and the country relies on imported wheat to meet more than half of its daily wheat and calorie requirements. Ukraine and Russia provided for 85 percent of the country’s imports in 2020-2021. Ukraine was expected to constitute approximately 12 percent of global wheat exports in 2022, consequently affecting countries like Tunisia, Somalia, Egypt and Algeria if it is unable to export grain.
Tunisia is also being ravaged by a financial crisis and struggling to deal with an inflation rate of over 6 percent. Most of its population is meeting their daily needs by relying on subsidised semolina and flour. However, with the global inflation in prices, these products are only available in the black market at costlier rates. Algeria has completely stopped exports of semolina, pasta and wheat products to prevent depletion of its stocks. The country has some relief through its oil export industry.
The price of wheat globally has shot up by approximately 50 percent since the invasion began. About 20 countries have imposed food restrictions and taxes on food since late February.
How is Russia responding?
Russia is strategically using the global food shortage and there is now increased pressure on the West to lift the sanctions imposed on it. Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the West for the global food crisis. In a conversation with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Putin stated: “(Russia) is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted.”
The US alleges Russia seeks to benefit from the expected increase in demand for wheat from the Middle East and Africa. Regardless of sanctions, Russia is in the running to be the top wheat exporter with an estimated 40 million tons exported from July 2022 to June 2023.
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Russia has also been accused of stealing Ukrainian grain, with the New York Times reporting the US alerted 14 countries of three vessels transporting stolen Ukrainian grain. Russia is denying the allegations, blaming Ukraine for not opening ports located on the Black sea for exports.
According to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is set to further massive food, energy and economic crises, with poorer countries bearing the worst of it. The 2022 Global Report on Food Crises said about 180 million people across 40 countries will face inescapable food insecurity, which can also lead to malnutrition, mass hunger and famine.
With people still struggling with post-Covid recovery, the governments of these countries having little cash at hand, and the war in Ukraine still ongoing, the global food crisis shows few signs of slowing.