War in Ukraine to hit poor countries’ food supply, could lead to major crises

By Dénes Albert
4 Min Read

The war is causing a humanitarian catastrophe not only in Ukraine, but also in African and Asian countries that have met much of their demand with Russian and Ukrainian wheat. The current war has had a further impact on price increases caused by the coronavirus epidemic, making bread a luxury item in several countries.

Several countries in North Africa and the Middle East are also afraid of a food crisis due to the loss of wheat, maize and sunflower oil supplies due to the Russo-Ukrainian war.

Both Ukraine and Russia account for 29 percent of world wheat exports, 19 percent of maize exports and 80 percent of sunflower oil exports.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that Middle Eastern countries imported more than 36 million tons of wheat last year, mainly from Russia and Ukraine. In recent years, Russia has held nearly 20 percent of the world’s wheat trade and was third after China and India in volume. Ukraine has been the fifth-largest exporter of wheat for the past five years.

“A protracted war in Ukraine could affect the July wheat harvest and thus global supplies,” Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a lecturer in Middle East policy at the University of London, told Al-Jazira news portal on Tuesday.

At the same time, the loss of Russian wheat exports, not the harvest, but the sanctions imposed on the country and its exclusion from the global payment system (SWIFT) could also cause supply problems.

The food security impact of the conflict will certainly be felt beyond the Ukrainian border, especially among the poorest, the World Food Program (WFP) wrote in an analysis of the wider effects of the war. Turkey is heavily dependent on the Russian-Ukrainian wheat trade, which relies 85 percent on crops from the two countries.

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“While the Turkish economy may be able to meet the demand for wheat from its own production, it will significantly increase prices,” Akkoyunlu said, who added that “bread has become increasingly rare and more expensive in Turkey, putting severe pressure ahead of the elections on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose popularity has declined in recent times, according to most pollsters.”

Egypt is even more dependent on wheat imports than Turkey, which bought 70 percent (4.2 million tons) of wheat from Russia last year, worth about $1.2 billion. Egypt, with a population of 100 million, bought 10 percent of its wheat consumption from Ukraine in 2021.

For Tunisia, 50 to 60 percent of the country’s wheat imports have come from Ukraine in recent years. The Tunisian government has thus found itself in a difficult situation, according to an official statement from the government. Due to the increased prices, they are no longer able to pay for shipments. For this reason, there is a widespread lack of cereal products (pasta, couscous), which constitute a major part of the country’s diet.

Countries similarly dependent on the Russian and Ukrainian wheat trade include Morocco, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where it is also a problem to replace lost crops. According to a report from the Tunisian and Moroccan governments, they are expected to turn to Uruguay, Romania, Bulgaria and Argentina, France, and Poland to buy wheat.

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