MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has had a major impact on the world’s economy, disrupting global supply chains and causing unprecedented food shortages in many areas. The impact of the Ukraine war on Africa has been severe as the continent is heavily reliant on imports of grains and oil from Ukraine and Russia. As a result, food and fuel prices have soared across Africa, pushing many people further into poverty and hardship.
Disruptions to Supply Chains
The war in Ukraine has prevented both Russia and Ukraine from exporting goods such as grain, fertilizer and crude oil. The conflict has severed connections between Russian and European ports and has left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports occupied or blockaded. This has had an extensive impact on trade as both countries play a key role in the export of cereal crops and oil. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ukraine was the world’s seventh-largest exporter of wheat in 2022.
The impact of the Ukraine war on Africa has been particularly bad as African demand for imports has dramatically increased over the past decade. Indeed, the U.N. found that the number of wheat imports to Africa had surged since 2007, increasing by 68% to 47 million tons of wheat in 2019. Countries such as Kenya, which imported 30% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine in 2021 according to the United States Institute of Peace, have thus experienced unprecedented levels of inflation and food scarcity as they are not getting the necessary imports to grow crops or produce essential goods such as bread due to the war.
The high inflation rate has hit African countries hard due to a high number of people living on a low income. The U.N. has found that the cost of food is now 42% higher than it was from 2014 to 2016. As many spend a large proportion of their income on food, with the average spend on food for households in sub-Saharan Africa being 40% according to the U.N., the poor in Africa have experienced some of the worst effects of global inflation. Levels of food insecurity have consequently been exacerbated, with the Red Cross stating that 146 million people are currently going hungry in Africa.
An Opportunity to Increase African Self-Reliance
Despite having unfortunate consequences for many living on the continent, the impact of the Ukraine war in Africa has provided a window of opportunity for the continent to reduce its reliance on imports. African countries contain 60% of the world’s share of arable land and have an abundance of resources that it can use for domestic consumption and exports, according to Africa Renewal. If African countries harness their natural resources, they have the ability to achieve self-sufficiency which is essential when providing for a growing population and building resilience that could prepare them for future crises.
In the face of growing instability, more countries are beginning to invest in increasing self-reliance and resilience in Africa. In 2021, the African Union Development Agency and the African Union Commission worked alongside African countries to produce the African Common Position, a plan to transform and expand food production across the continent, Africa Renewal reports. The position recognizes that countries in Africa must increase their capacity to produce cereal grains in order to prevent future disruptions to supply chains such as the one caused by the war in Ukraine.
The U.S. has also recently reaffirmed its commitment to helping African partners build stronger food systems and achieve food security. In a December 2022 statement, Biden announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $2.5 billion to strengthen African food production, on top of the $11 billion it already provided in 2022. The White House recognized the necessity to invest in “sustainable and resilient food systems to prevent food shocks before they happen”, in light of the war in Ukraine and growing costs.
An Opportunity to Transform the Economy
The growing acknowledgment of the need for African countries to achieve self-reliance from nations across the globe, as well as organizations such as the U.N. and institutes such as USIP and PRIO is a positive step towards reducing the effects that future conflicts have on the African continent.
Whilst the impact of the Ukraine war on Africa has certainly been devastating for many, it has highlighted fundamental problems with Africa’s food systems and provided a key opportunity for the continent to transform its economy and reduce its need for imports. Hopefully, if African countries seize this opportunity, they could increase their resilience and self-sustainability which could better protect them from future crises.
– Priya Thakkar