HomeAnalysisCeteris Paribus: Russo-Ukrainian war: Food insecurity escalates

Ceteris Paribus: Russo-Ukrainian war: Food insecurity escalates

THE concept of Realism (Morgenthau, 1948) in International Relations highlights that state actions and decisions are rooted in human nature and states like human beings are selfish and protect their interests above those of others. The behaviour of states since the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022 has proven Morgenthau’s submissions true as states have moved protectionist agendas where their food security interests are concerned.

Climate challenges, pandemic blows, and economic instability have resulted in a global hike in fuel and food prices, along with the war in Ukraine having a devastating impact on worldwide food security.

Around the world, governments are taking to food protectionism to secure local supplies and battle rising food costs. Top shipper Indonesia recently temporarily banned palm oil exports, before replacing it with domestic sales quota after farmers protested the move. India has curbed wheat imports and is set to restrict sugar shipments, and Serbia and Kazakhstan have imposed quotas on grain shipments.

Globally, around 47 million people are facing a shortage of wheat and other supplies. The UN sanctions on Russia have further disrupted import transit to West and Central Africa, affecting the region’s food security.

Notably, heavier price increases have been witnessed in agricultural inputs and products like cooking oil, cereals, and fertilisers among others. Together the warring nations produce 30% of the world’s wheat. Before the invasion in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s breadbasket, exporting 4,5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports — 12% of the planet’s wheat, 15% of its maize, and half of its sunflower oil.

Ukraine’s wheat production this year is likely to be 35% down according to experts, and exporting much of it may be impossible due to Russia’s Black Sea blockade. Elevated global commodity prices, which were initially expected to ease in the third quarter of the year, will likely remain high toward the year-end or even into 2023 before normalising, experts say.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, last week said Ukraine-related shortages could help “tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity”. The result could be “malnutrition, mass hunger, and famine in a crisis that could last for years” — and increase the chances of a global recession.

A shortage of basic commodities has meant a surge in prices of food products, increasing exposure on the food security front, and destabilising African economies.

This has turned on the heat for African economies which depend on at least 40% worth of imports, whose import bill is north of US$35 billion annually to meet their agriculture and food supply needs for basic commodities.

Fourteen African countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, while almost half the continent depends on imports for more than a third of their wheat. Apart from the looming supply constraints, this crisis has already pushed food grain prices up by more than 25% in a matter of weeks, according to the World Economic Forum.

Africa has also come up with an Africa Trade  Exchange, a platform to pool-procure bulk basic commodities and ensure countries access scarce supplies transparently and equitably. The ATEx has rolled out an emergency food production plan to mitigate the effect of the war on food prices through the rapid production of wheat, maize, rice, and soya bean.

Imperative to Africa is the establishment of policy frameworks and a regulatory environment that promote agriculture and remove the perennial credit, land tenure, market, and technology barriers that have beleaguered food production and marketing for decades.

Opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area arrangement must also be seized, to scale up production and benefit from expanded regional markets.

  • Mabunda is an analyst and TV anchor at Equity Axis, a leading financial research firm in Zimbabwe. — ebenm@equityaxis.net

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