On Thursday morning, the world was greeted with the news of a Russian attack on a neighbouring country, Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stayed firm on his decision as the United States and NATO express their disapproval. The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has expressed his resolve to fight back. As things heat up between the two European giants, we can only speculate what the ripple effect of a Russia-Ukraine war will mean for Africa and the rest of the world.
Ukraine has some of the most fertile lands on the planet and has long been recognised as Europe’s breadbasket. Its rapidly expanding agricultural exports, including cereals, vegetable oils, and various other items, are critical to feeding people across Africa and Asia.
And it just so happens that a large portion of Ukraine’s most fertile agricultural land is located in the country’s eastern areas, which are also the most exposed to a potential Russian invasion. As war clouds build over Ukraine’s borders, one fear that has largely gone unreported is what will happen to this region and nations around the globe that rely on Ukraine for food.
Ukraine is a major exporter of corn, barley, and rye, but it is the country’s wheat that most influences global food security. Ukraine exported around 18 million metric tonnes of wheat in 2020, out of a total crop of 24 million metric tonnes, ranking it fifth in the world. Customers include China and the European Union, but Ukrainian wheat has become a crucial import in the developing world.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, over half of the wheat consumed in Lebanon in 2020 originated from Ukraine. Lebanon is vitally dependent on Ukrainian wheat since bread and other grain products account for 35% of the population’s calorie consumption.
African countries that will Suffer the Most from a Russian-Ukraine War
A large proportion of the 14 nations that rely on Ukrainian imports for more than 10% of their wheat consumption are already facing food insecurity due to persistent political instability or open conflict. Yemen and Libya, for example, import 22 percent and 43 percent of their total wheat consumption from Ukraine, respectively.
Egypt, the largest consumer of Ukrainian wheat, purchased more than 3 million metric tonnes in 2020, accounting for almost 14% of total wheat imports. A Russia-Ukraine war could be devasting for these regions in Africa. According to FAO figures, Ukraine will also supply 28 percent of Malaysian, 28 percent of Indonesian, and 21 percent of Bangladeshi wheat consumption in 2020.
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