Written by Piero Messina
Famine will come. 100 million tons of wheat will be missing from the world food market. 26 are those produced by Ukraine, the remainder is that relating to Russian production, even that blocked for international exports. The conflict being fought in Ukraine risks causing thousands of deaths in Africa and the Middle East. They are the collateral damage of the conflict. The specter of famine emerges from the stop to grain production in Ukraine.
The Black Sea area hit by the Ukrainian crisis exports at least 12 percent of the food calories traded in the world. Ukraine has one third of the most fertile soil in the world according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and 45% of its exports are related to agriculture. It is among the world’s leading exporters of sunflower oil, canola and barley, corn, wheat and poultry. Much of the country’s wheat production comes from parts of eastern Ukraine.
On March 9, Kiev banned exports of grain and other food products to prevent an internal crisis. Meanwhile, the farmers are abandoning the fields. The conflict is destroying infrastructure and equipment. The next harvest is probably skipped.
Across the world, the prices of essential food were already rising globally due to the pandemic and disruptions in the food supply chain. In 2020, due to the pandemic, food prices in Africa and the Middle East rose by more than 30%. The Ukrainian crisis has further pushed prices to reach their highest level since 1974, when adjusting to inflation, according to the FAO. Nearly one in three people in the Middle East and North Africa did not have access to adequate nutrition in 2020; an increase of 10 million people in just one year.
The crisis in Ukraine exacerbates the problems. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are particularly dependent on Ukrainian wheat and seed oil and are vulnerable to food price shocks. In these countries, bread and other cereal-based products make up 35% of the population’s calorie intake.
According to Human Rights Watch, “many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have seriously inadequate social protection systems that do not protect people’s economic rights to help them cope with rising prices.”
Particularly at risk are countries already struggling with crises and widespread food insecurity such as Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. In Egypt, in the face of rising prices and the prospect of a rapid depletion of stocks, President al-Sisi announced new incentives for the agricultural sector and for controlling the price at the sale. Also imposed a three-month ban on the export of oil, corn, legumes, pasta and flour. The crisis also wears down the finances of the country that is looking for new loans. The North African country would only have nine months to see its grain reserves dry up due to a halt to supplies from Ukraine.
Egypt, for example, imports about 85% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The spokesman for the Cairo government, Nader Saad, raised the problem by recalling that the available reserves are used to meet internal needs for only five months.
“There are 14 countries besides Russia and Ukraine that can supply grain to Egypt outside of Europe, including Australia, the United States and Paraguay,” Saad added. “But not at the same price.”
According to Human Rights Watch “sanctions on Russia risk aggravating the food crisis”. The NGO stresses that “food exporting countries should meet their national needs, but they should also work with import-dependent countries to establish alternative supply chains. Sanctions on Russia or the divestment of companies from the country should take into account the impact on agriculture-related exports to the extent that this will have an impact on food security for many populations. ” Human Rights Watch hopes that “governments and international institutions will increase humanitarian assistance to countries that do not have adequate resources to provide people with the support they need to protect their right to food”.
Europe too will soon have to deal with the shortage of wheat and fertilizers. Sanctions on Russia are proving to be a dangerous boomerang.
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