The war in Ukraine has disrupted almost a third of the world’s wheat market, worsening a global food security crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of people facing acute food insecurity has more than doubled since 2019 due to COVID-19, according to the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP).
Abeer Etefa, UN WFP senior spokeswoman, says that the impact of the conflict in Ukraine is being felt beyond its borders.
“Any serious disruption of production and exports from this region, from Ukraine, from Russia, will erode food security for millions of people around the world,” she says.
The UN’s Food Price Index hit an all-time high in February, largely because of bad weather and rising energy and fertiliser costs.
This does not fully reflect the impact of the invasion of Ukraine, which started in the last week of February.
The conflict will have a huge ripple effect due to the large volume of wheat trade that occurs in the Black Sea region, known as the world’s breadbasket.
Alexander Karavaytsev, a senior economist at the IGC, says there are no signs of fresh overseas deals or inquiries in Russia and that trade in the Black Sea has stalled even though Russia’s deep sea ports are still operational.
“Owners are reluctant to send their vessels to the region because of mounting financial sanctions and surging insurance premiums,” he says.
Russia is also a major exporter of oil, fertiliser and other crops, meaning that countries will struggle to find affordable substitutes for wheat.
Arnaud Petit, executive director at the IGC, says that replacing the Black Sea region is impossible.
“The world cannot afford these two major exporters not acting in the market,” he says.
WFP executive director David Beasley warned that the ripple effects of the conflict will be felt most acutely by “the poorest of the poor”.
Large parts of the Middle East and North Africa source most of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. Moreover, many face higher import needs this year due to bad domestic harvests.
While some countries like Egypt have enough reserves to last almost until the end of the year, others like Lebanon only have enough for one or two more months.