In addition to the human tragedies, the Russian invasion of Ukraine also has implications for global food supplies. Russia and Ukraine are not only considered the “granaries” of Europe, they are also the main suppliers of wheat to many African countries. The two countries supply about 30 percent of global demand. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF ), imports account for about 85% of sub-Saharan Africa’s supply. The world’s 45 least developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia. After Ukraine, they will all suffer the most from this war.
According to experts, the effects and implications of the Ukraine war on global food security could be far-reaching. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned early on of a meltdown of the global economy that will provoke a hunger crisis that will hit the poorest, hardest.
The United Nations speak of a “hurricane of hunger” that could plunge another 8 to 13 million people into hunger in Eastern Europe, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Worrying price increases
Harvested volumes and exports from Ukraine influence prices worldwide. The price increase since the Russian attack is worrying. The global price of wheat has risen by around one-third, and by as much as 60 percent compared with the previous year. If the war continues, there is a threat of further increases, for example because fields in Ukraine cannot be sown, leading to severe supply shortages. Prices for dairy products and cooking oils are also at record levels. The cost of fuel and is also skyrocketing, making the transported food even more expensive.
Great insecurity in many African countries
The war is affecting many African countries, including SWISSAID partner countries. They are now even more at risk of hunger. “It is very likely that we will see an increase in the price of bread in the coming weeks, as the flour is imported,” explains Clément Jous from SWISSAID in Chad. In Chad, the last harvest was poor and the increase comes at a time when prices are already higher than usual. In Chad, food prices were already rising before the war in Ukraine. This is due to the poor harvest, which also affected the quality and quantity of seeds.
Even in countries where people are less dependent on wheat, staple food prices are rising because raw materials have become more expensive. SWISSAID program officer for Tanzania, Rainard Mjunguli, reports, “We are facing a significant increase in oil and gasoline prices, which is affecting the transportation cost of various products such as cooking oil or rice. Bus tickets have also become significantly more expensive.”
Jalò Cherno Talato, Program Officer SWISSAID Guinea-Bissau
“We are worried. In a war, poor countries always suffer the most because they are heavily dependent on imports. Guinea-Bissau will be particularly affected because there is practically no value chain, as the manufacturing sector is completely absent. Guinea-Bissau imports dairy products, hygiene products and cereals. The increase in fuel prices will further aggravate the situation, as it will affect the prices of transportation, energy, etc. Prices of sugar, cooking oil, and bread have increased by at least 30 percent, and soap and milk by 40 percent. Other products are not available anymore; flour, for example, is sold out. In my opinion, we need to increase national production and promote the processing and upgrading of local products.”
Particularly affected: Niger already weakened by climate
In Niger, the situation was already worrying long before the war. The food situation is visibly deteriorating. The population is already suffering greatly from prolonged droughts and climate-related extreme weather events. Farmers have no crops to store. First heavy rains in July, then a drought starting in August have destroyed the precious food. At the end of last year, when the granaries should have been well stocked with rice, millet and beans, they were almost empty. 2.3 million people are at acute risk of hunger, which is why SWISSAID launched an emergency aid program at the end of December 2021. The war in Ukraine is drastically exacerbating the situation. The already high prices on the markets appear to be rising further.
Issoufou Abdou Djibo, Program Officer SWISSAID Niger
“In Niger, the situation was already very difficult long before the war, because the winter harvest was catastrophic. Currently, more than 2.3 million people are at risk of hunger. Many products have already become more expensive. The prices of bread and wheat have already increased from 200 to 250 CFA a few weeks ago. The war has exacerbated the situation and particularly affect the wheat, which is why poor households can hardly afford bread anymore. Other grains have also become more expensive. Compared to last year, a bag of millet costs 31,000 CFA instead of 24,000, corn now costs 29,000 CFA instead of 21,000 and sorghum 27,000 CFA instead of 21,000 CFA.”
The war and hunger
Our solution: agroecology and strengthening local food systems
Strong dependencies on countries can be problematic. This can be seen in the example of the war in Ukraine, which is not only affecting the two affected areas but also spilling over into the rest of the world. Global food systems are closely intertwined and respond quickly to market changes.
“To reduce dependencies on imported food and feed the world’s population in the longer term, it is imperative to change our food systems sustainably,” says Sarah Mader, thematic advisor for agroecology at SWISSAID.
The solution is the approach of agroecology, which calls for ecological and socially compatible agriculture. SWISSAID has been focusing on this approach for decades: promoting local agricultural production chains, upgrading farmers’ knowledge, especially about seeds, and implementing agroecology. The multi-faceted approach of agroecology is based on natural cycles, conserves resources and reduces dependence on external factors. In addition, this method of cultivation strengthens the soil, protecting it from storms, heavy rains or droughts.
The war in Ukraine and its life-threatening impact on the food situation worldwide shows once again that in our globalized world, a more independent and local supply, especially of staple foods, is the solution in the fight against hunger. For crisis-resistant and sustainable food for all!