SAN JOSE, California — As Russia invades Ukraine, one of the biggest commodities the conflict impacts will be grain. Grain exports from Russia and Ukraine make up “19% of the world’s barley supply,” 14% of the world’s wheat supply and 4% of the world’s maize supply. Punitive sanctions levied against Russia and Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports will undoubtedly have global ramifications on the world’s food supply, especially for less wealthy nations. On March 11, 2022, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) predicted that “international food and feed prices could rise by up to 20%” between 2022 and 2023, which will economically damage nations heavily on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine.
Nations in Jeopardy
Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Turkey receive “60% of their grain exports” from Russia and Ukraine, which could further exacerbate food insecurity in these countries. These nations will take an economic hit from the cut on 60% of their wheat imports, which will result in significant food price increases for the average person living in those countries.
This grain shortage could also exacerbate the already existing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. In response to recent upticks in food prices emerging from the Russia-Ukraine crisis, David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP), in reference to the Middle East and Sahel region, publicly announced that “Without food security, you’re not going to have peace. It’s just that simple.”
In 2019, grain was Yemen’s most imported product. Grain exports from Russia and Ukraine in 2019 in Yemen were worth roughly $387.2 million out of a total of $1.02 billion in wheat exports. Furthermore, about 84% of wheat requirements in Eastern Africa are met through imports. The “four back-to-back below-average seasonal rains” and minuscule agricultural output further exacerbate the economic damage of losing wheat imports for the average person in Egypt down to Somalia.
Egypt’s reserves and local harvests are enough to supply subsidized bread for about nine months as of March 7, 2022, leading Egypt to also foresee spending an additional $950 million from higher wheat prices. Furthermore, the prices of local wheat have increased in Egypt by 23% and the costs of local flour have increased by 44% since the beginning of the Russian invasion, according to Ezzat Aziz from the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.
Lebanon “imports nearly 60% of its wheat from Ukraine” and the Beirut explosion in 2020 led to the destruction of most of Lebanon’s wheat reserves. Although the Lebanese government did agree to allocate funds to buy 50,000 tonnes of wheat on February 25, 2022, this amount will only last one month. After Lebanon’s economic crisis in 2021, leaving 82% of the population living in multidimensional poverty, concerns are rising that the Lebanese government will be incapable of providing subsidies for bread in general.
UN Policy Recommendations
To combat the increasingly prominent food crisis caused by disruptions to grain exports from Russia and Ukraine from warfare, the FAO outlined a broad set of policy recommendations and goals. The FAO prescribes that countries should make efforts “to keep international trade in food and fertilizers open to meet domestic and global demand [and]supply chains should be kept fully operational.” To mitigate the economic shocks of overreliance on wheat exports from Ukraine and Russia, the U.N. also recommends diversifying food sources through the reliance on different exporting nations or diversifying domestic production capabilities.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems abysmal for Ukrainian food security, nations that are net importers of wheat and economically struggling nations, other wealthier nations are providing food aid for these countries. Turkey announced a plan on March 13, 2022, to deliver 500,000 tons of food assistance to Lebanon.
To further alleviate Lebanon’s food crisis amid Russia’s invasion, on March 23, 2022, USAID also provided $64 million worth of food aid to Lebanon through the World Food Programme. The aid consists of non-perishable food, food vouchers, “rice, chickpeas, pasta [and]lentils.” While the aid to nations who have experienced a lack of grain exports by Russia and Ukraine is limited, nations and international agencies are taking action to address food emergencies, such as the crisis in Lebanon.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is creating global economic shockwaves from the disruption of key supply chains to export grain. While Libya or Gulf nations may have a cushion by relying on increased oil prices to generate revenue for wheat, nations such as Lebanon or Eritrea are not as fortunate. High wheat prices harshly impact unstable nations that are already facing economic downturns.
This newly emerging crisis of food insecurity feeds into a vicious cycle of causing more instability, which further exacerbates food insecurity in currently economically struggling nations. While this cycle is likely to continue as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several international organizations and nations are already beginning to deliver food aid to struggling nations. As the Russian invasion prolongs, more nations are likely to join in on allocating and delivering food aid.
– Alexander Richter