The two eastern European nations produce a combined 30% of the world’s traded wheat, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. As Russia blockades the Black Sea with ships and sea mines, thereby preventing Ukrainian exports, some Western officials have accused Russia of holding people in the developing world hostage.
“You cannot use the hunger of people as a weapon of war,” Joseph Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said to other diplomats this week. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”
Nearly half of African wheat imports come from Russia and Ukraine, with some nations importing “more than one third of their wheat from the two countries,” according to a United Nations report released in March. Some countries — such as Egypt, Somalia, and Benin — import more than 80% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
However, the potential for trade between African nations to replace the imports is “comparatively small” due to the continent’s low crop production, while “many parts of the continent lack efficient transport infrastructures and storage capacity.”
Even beyond Africa, Russia and Ukraine send 26% of their exports to Turkey, 23% to China, and 13% to India. Rising global food prices may contribute to worldwide inflationary pressures, according to the United Nations.
Many officials are now calling upon the United States to increase agricultural exports to supplement the lost shipments from Russia and Ukraine. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said at the World Economic Forum last month that global food shortages represent a “dire” situation and therefore recommended “openness in exports of food,” refraining from “food restrictions,” and not buying “more food than you need for your own country.”
Earlier this month, the Biden administration vowed ahead of the Summit of the Americas to provide another $331 million in food security and humanitarian aid for Latin American nations.
“This contribution will complement the United States’ existing commitment to providing life-saving humanitarian assistance, responding to acute food insecurity, and advancing capacity-building activities that bolster disaster preparedness and response” across Latin America and the Caribbean, a White House statement said.
East African nations like Kenya and Ethiopia were already struggling with drought and related livestock deaths before the added threat to the global food supply. According to Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu, the region is experiencing its fourth consecutive season without rain.
“This, coupled with other stress factors such as conflicts in both our region and Europe, the impact of COVID-19, and macro-economic challenges, has led to acute levels of food insecurity across the Greater Horn of Africa,” Gebeyehu said in April, per the World Meteorological Organization. “The episode of droughts became very frequent in the Horn of Africa and the region was also affected by a devastating desert locust outbreak during the past two years.”