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Ukraine crisis worsens Africa’s food security

  Africa has long faced problems such as food shortages, fragile food production systems, and strong external dependence on food supply. In recent years, the frequent occurrence of extreme weather and the spread of COVID-19 have exacerbated the food crisis in Africa. The outbreak and continued escalation of the crisis in Ukraine has made Africa’s food security even worse. Affected by this, the African continent is facing multiple dilemmas such as returning to poverty, increasing refugees, and social unrest.
Vulnerability and external dependence of food supply chains

  Food production plays an important role in Africa’s economic development. Agriculture accounts for about 25% of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP), and employment in food production accounts for about 50% of Africa’s total employment. Food production capacity largely determines Africa’s economic development and people’s livelihood security. However, in recent decades, food production systems in many African countries have been fragile and productive capacity has been declining. On the one hand, affected by global warming, Africa is facing severe challenges of increasingly frequent extreme weather and natural disasters, and the lack of infrastructure such as water conservancy and irrigation makes African food production vulnerable and weak in the face of “natural disasters”. On the other hand, although Africa has a large labor force engaged in agriculture and a high proportion of agriculture in economic development, with the rapid development of urbanization and industrialization, a large number of high-quality land resources around cities have been expropriated, and a large number of young and middle-aged labor force have been transferred to cities. Resulting in the unsustainable agricultural production in Africa.
  While Africa is one of the world’s major food producers, many African countries are net importers and rely heavily on purchasing food from international markets to meet domestic demand. This is closely related to the colonial expansion of Western countries and the industrialization path choice of African countries in history. In order to obtain stable economic benefits, Western colonists promoted the cultivation of “export-oriented” cash crops such as cotton, coffee, and rubber in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resulting in single agricultural production and lack of staple food production in Africa. After independence, some African countries are eager to realize industrialization transformation and regard agriculture as an auxiliary industry of industry, but the level of agricultural production has not been significantly improved. For example, African countries have increasing demand for rice, but local rice production has not increased significantly. African countries may import 20 million tons of rice this year, which is expected to double by 2035.
Food supply chain hit by triple shock

  Both Russia and Ukraine are the world’s largest grain producers and exporters. Data released by the World Bank in April showed that the two countries accounted for 29% of global wheat exports and 19% of corn exports. Ukraine is also the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil, and Russia ranks second. The production of sunflower oil in the two countries accounts for 60% of the world’s total production. African countries rely heavily on products such as wheat, edible oil and fertilizers exported by Russia and Ukraine. Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows that from 2018 to 2020, Africa imported a total of $5.1 billion worth of wheat from Russia and Ukraine, accounting for 44% of Africa’s total wheat imports. About 90 percent of East African countries’ wheat imports come from Russia and Ukraine. The outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis and its spillover effects have severely impacted the food supply chain in Africa, which is manifested in the following three aspects:
  a sharp rise in food prices and an increase in transportation costs. Global prices of grains, vegetable oils and meat surged to their highest levels since 1990 in March, data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization showed. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, agricultural trade protectionism has further risen, and more than 20 countries have announced the implementation of grain export controls, boosting food prices to rise sharply in the short term. Russia completely blocked the Black Sea coastline, and most Ukrainian ports, including Odessa and Chernomorsk, were forced to close, which once prevented more than 20 million tons of grain to be exported. Uzbekistan can only export grain to foreign countries by land and air transport.
  In early August, Ukraine’s Black Sea “grain corridor” reopened. Even if ports reopen, ships still face safety risks if the situation remains unstable, the trade group of dry bulk shipowners for grain carriers said. It is difficult to solve the problem of food transportation quickly, which will further increase the world food price. Russia is a major exporter of energy such as oil and natural gas. The global oil price once rose above $100 per barrel after the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in February, and the cost of sea, land and air transportation also rose simultaneously. According to statistics, in low-income African countries, the energy cost in food storage, transportation and distribution has accounted for more than half of the total cost of food imports.

Ghana with severe food shortages. On June 3, 2022, people in Accra, the country, line up to receive a free lunch distributed by the All-Africa Food Organization.

  Fertilizer supplies are tight and prices are soaring. According to British media reports in June, United Nations data showed that global fertilizer supply has shrunk by nearly half in the past year, and fertilizer prices have been high, with prices of some types almost tripled in the past. Russia is the world’s major exporter of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus fertilizers and natural gas, the raw material for fertilizer production. Among them, the export volume of potash fertilizer ranks third in the world and the export volume of nitrogen fertilizer ranks first in the world. Western sanctions against Russia have touched the energy sector, causing natural gas prices to soar, and fertilizer prices to rise immediately. African countries that are highly dependent on imports of fertilizers are facing enormous challenges.
  Grain markets are weak. So far, the United States and the West have imposed more than 9,000 targeted sanctions on Russia, and Russia has taken countermeasures, including banning the export of some agricultural products. These sanctions and countermeasures have triggered a chain supply crisis in the global grain trading market. According to statistics from the sanctions tracking platform Castellum.AI and the World Bank WITS database, the 46 countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia account for 52% of Africa’s export share and 45% of its import share, and African countries have been indirectly affected by the sanctions. Compared with sub-Saharan African countries, North African countries are more dependent on trade with these 46 countries. In the past 20 years, Russia and Ukraine have had a large import demand for fresh fruits and vegetables from African countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, and South Africa. However, due to the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia and the previous blockade of Black Sea ports by Russia, African countries exported to Russia and Ukraine. dramatically drop.
The social impact of the food crisis

  The food crisis in Africa is having a serious negative impact on Africa’s economic and social development. Inflation has generally increased in African countries, and people’s living costs have continued to rise. Inflation in South Africa hit 7.8% in July, the highest level in 13 years. Populous Nigeria and Egypt recorded inflation of 19.6% and 16.7% respectively in July. Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate was as high as 256.9% in July. The African Development Bank expects inflation in Africa to average 13.5% in 2022. Another data shows that the average monthly price of food in East African countries reached US$17 per capita in May, up 51.1% year-on-year and 18.4% higher than before the Ukraine crisis. Rising food prices and high inflation will greatly reduce the purchasing power of ordinary African families and their living standards.
  Several food crises in Africa have also triggered political and social crises. A report jointly issued by the European Commission and the European External Action Service pointed out that the food crisis may set off a new wave of refugees in Africa, and the European Union has begun to take measures to deal with the refugee crisis from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and other countries.
  The “Arab Spring” movement, which began with a self-immolation incident in Tunisia in 2010, was closely related to the high inflation and unemployment caused by the food crisis. In 2014, the severe weather and the food crisis caused by the Ebola epidemic also became an important reason for the riots in countries such as the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria and Mali. In 2020, the spread of the new crown epidemic in Africa has caused food shortages, and social riots have also occurred in South Africa, Lesotho and other countries. On September 22, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the growing insecurity and political instability are bringing a crisis to the Sahel region of West Africa and posing a “global threat”. A total of 2,057 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso this year as of the end of June, more than the region’s death toll for all of 2021. The analysis pointed out that since the beginning of this year, the regional ecological environment has deteriorated, and the Ukrainian crisis has led to rising food prices in Africa, and the people in the Sahel have fallen into the dilemma of famine and unemployment, which has increased social instability.

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