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War in Ukraine Worsens Africa’s Unprecedented Food Crisis

FOOD & AGRICULTUREWar in Ukraine Worsens Africa's Unprecedented Food Crisis

The Russian war in Ukraine, which caused problems with food supplies and a sharp rise in food prices on world markets, has added to the devastating effects of climate change and poor harvests in many African countries. These circumstances, alongside rebellions and civil wars, are currently the primary causes of hunger and food security problems. According to a report co-developed by the UN FAO, WFP and the African Union, Africa is facing a food crisis of unprecedented proportions.

“Before the war broke out in Ukraine, it was estimated that about 23 million people in Africa were directly at risk of starvation. A year later, right after the outbreak of the war, this number doubled. It shows how much this problem has affected the poorest countries in the world,” said Mateusz Gasiński, CEO of the Good Factory Foundation to Newseria Biznes agency.

With almost 1.3 billion inhabitants greatly suffered following the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022. Before the war, these two countries were among the largest food suppliers, exporting almost 53 million tonnes of wheat in 2021, accounting for about a third of global trade in this grain. Furthermore, Ukraine was also one of the largest exporters of corn, oilseeds (soy and rapeseed) and sunflower oil. Similarly, Russia was not only a major food exporter but also the world’s largest exporter of agricultural fertilizers, accounting for about 15-17% of global supplies before the war. War operations and sanctions, however, drastically reduced imports from these countries.

“Right after the outbreak of war, there were fears that Ukraine and Russia, being the world’s granary, would lose their ability to export grain, so indeed it will run out. African markets also responded to this. Bread has become more expensive not only in our country, but also in the Middle East and Africa, causing people already living on the brink of poverty to simply not be able to afford to eat anymore,” says Mateusz Gasiński.

Apart from supply problems, the war has also caused record rises in food and fuel prices on world markets, to which impoverished Africa is exceptionally sensitive. Furthermore, these new issues compound many existing problems related to hunger and food security, intensifying their effect. Additionally, the situation has been further complicated by the fact that some global aid has been redirected to Ukraine.

As a result of all these adverse factors, Africa is facing a food crisis of unprecedented scale – pointed out by the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture, the World Food Programme, the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa in a joint report last year (”Africa 2023. Regional Overview of Food Security”).

According to the report, the war also coincided with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in 2020-2022 increased the number of malnourished people in Africa by approximately 57 million – to a level of almost 282 million (about 20% of the population).

“Because of the food crisis in Africa, areas on the border with Sahara, the Sahel region, where the growing period is very short and shortens every year, face the biggest problems. We observe this very well. Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritania are countries which see less and less rain and the growing period is getting shorter,” highlights the CEO of the Good Factory Foundation.

According to data from the World Food Program, in Sahel region, approximately 34 million people struggle with severe hunger, of which over 7 million are children under five years old. These countries until recently imported 30-50% wheat crops from Ukraine and Russia. However, climate change and desertification are increasingly contributing towards worsening conditions in the Sahel countries.

“Bukina Faso and Mauritania are examples of countries where we are clearly dealing with the effects of climate change. With climate change and desertification, the Sahara takes over more and more areas and keeps moving, so our role on-site is, among other things, preparing people for a change in the way of farming. This can no longer be farming with a watering can and hoe, we need to prepare them for the introduction of technologies that will minimize water consumption, properly select crops and maximize the food production process,” stated Mateusz Gasiński.

One of the main causes of hunger and food security problems in Africa are also political instability, conflicts, rebellions and civil wars. In addition, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the outbreak of war, the food crisis in Africa and the rise in its prices have led to even more instability on the continent.

However, as Gasiński points out, these problems on the continent are largely remnants of the colonial era. “These are countries that were simply divided by a razor after colonial times. Africa is a collection of different tribes and these drawn borders often artificially divide these people, which contributes to the outbreak of conflicts,” says Gasiński.

He emphasizes that the victims of wars and hunger are invariably children. He warned against lumping all African countries together, noting, “This is a mortal disease that is the easiest to cure, because you just have to give the person a well-balanced meal and not allow him to fall into malnutrition. The fact that we have something to eat is a miracle, but the fact that people in this world are starving is a disgrace.”

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