Wheatfield in Ukraine (Ryzhkov Oleksandr/ Shutterstock)
By Kevin Zupkas
Ukraine has historically been considered Europe’s ‘breadbasket,’ as the grain-rich steppes in Ukraine and Russia account for roughly 23% of the world’s supply of wheat, 64% of its sunflower oil, 19% of its barley, and 18% of its corn. Because of this, many nations in Africa and the Middle East that either lack fertile soil or sophisticated agricultural infrastructure have heavily relied on Ukraine and Russia for their supply of grain.
According to the UN Comtrade database, countries such as Benin and Somalia imported 100% of their grain supply from either Ukraine or Russia, while that figure ranged between 82% and 64% in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal.
So, you get the picture: Ukraine and Russia are major world suppliers of grain––so much so, that many countries particularly in Africa have relied solely on Ukrainian and Russian grain exports as their primary source of food.
It shouldn’t be hard to imagine then how chaos and instability would ensue from food insecurity when you put these two global grain suppliers in a brutal war against each other.
With roughly 71% of Ukraine’s land being used for agricultural use, and roughly 95% of Ukraine’s wheat exports exiting through the Black Sea; occupation and blockade would prove to be catastrophic. About 30% of that farmland is now either occupied or unsafe for further use.
This would devastate not only the Ukrainian economy but especially the African nations which almost entirely rely on Ukrainian grain imports as their primary source of food.
This was and continues to potentially be a global catastrophe. Luckily this was an issue that was recognized by all sides of the conflict, and humanitarian efforts brokered a deal that would allow grain shipments to continue unrestricted began shortly after the war’s outbreak.
An agreement known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative was ratified by the two sides and brokered by Turkey and the United Nations on July 22, 2022. This would help mitigate the mass chaos that would occur in dependent nations, however, shipment rates were still nowhere near the necessary prewar scale to provide the developing world with enough grain. It was under constant threat of being broken by the Russians if the conflict were to ever escalate.
Now, about a year on, grain prices have stabilized after spiking from 50% to 60% at the start of the war. Other countries and regions such as the U.S., Canada and the European Union were able to ramp up grain production to compensate for lost Ukrainian grain. And just this last month on Mar. 18, Russia agreed to extend the deal by another 60 days (although Turkey and Ukraine claimed that it would be extended by 120).
Despite this, the only way to fully ensure food security in the future is to find a way to end this war as soon as possible or to begin the war against climate change so that perhaps one-day developing nations will have the required soil and equipment to produce their own source of food.