KYIV, TGO: The Russian tanks and missiles besieging Ukraine also are threatening the food supply and livelihoods of people in Europe, Africa and Asia who rely on the vast, fertile farmlands of the Black Sea region known as the “breadbasket of the world.” Ukrainian farmers have been forced to neglect their fields as millions flee, fight or try to stay alive. Ports are shut down that send wheat and other food staples worldwide to be made into bread, noodles and animal feed. And there are worries Russia, another agricultural powerhouse, could have its grain exports upended by Western sanctions.
While there have not yet been global disruptions to wheat supplies, prices have surged 55 per cent since a week before the invasion amid concerns about what could happen next. If the war is prolonged, countries that rely on affordable wheat exports from Ukraine could face shortages starting in July, International Grains Council director Arnaud Petit told Press.
That could create food insecurity and throw more people into poverty in places like Egypt and Lebanon, where diets are dominated by government subsidized bread. In Europe, officials are preparing for potential shortages of products from Ukraine and increased prices for livestock feed that could mean more expensive meat and dairy if farmers are forced to pass along costs to customers.
Russia and Ukraine combine for nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley exports. Ukraine also is a major supplier of corn and the global leader in sunflower oil, used in food processing. The war could reduce food supplies just when prices are at their highest levels since 2011.
A prolonged conflict would have a big impact some 2,400 kilometers away in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer. Millions rely on subsidized bread made from Ukrainian grains to survive, with about a third of people living in poverty.
“Wars mean shortages, and shortages mean (price) hikes,” Ahmed Salah, a 47-year-old father of seven, said in Cairo. “Any hikes will be catastrophic not only for me, but for the majority of the people.”
Anna Nagurney, a professor of supply chains, logistics and economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said, “Wheat, corn, oils, barley, flour are extremely important to food security … especially in the poorer parts of the globe.”
With Ukrainian men being called on to fight, she said, “Who’s going to be doing the harvesting? Who’d be doing the transportation?”.
Egypt’s state procurer of wheat, which normally buys heavily from Russia and Ukraine, had to cancel two orders in less than a week: one for overpricing, the other because a lack of companies offered to sell their supplies. Sharp spikes in the cost of wheat globally could severely affect Egypt’s ability to keep bread prices at their current subsidized level.
“Bread is extremely heavily subsidized in Egypt, and successive governments have found that cuts to those subsidies are the one straw that should be kept off the camel’s back at all costs,” Mirette Mabrouk, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, wrote in a recent analysis.
War-ravaged Syria recently announced it would cut spending and ration staples. In nearby Lebanon, where a massive explosion at the Beirut port in 2020 destroyed the country’s main grain silos, authorities are scrambling to make up for a predicted wheat shortage, with Ukraine providing 60 per cent of its supply. They are in talks with the US, India and Canada to find other sources for a country already in financial meltdown.