Ukraine Update: The War Hikes Hunger In Africa With Increasing Food Price

hunger africa

The war in Ukraine is increasing food prices, which is increasing hunger in Africa.

An AP report from Mogadishu, Somalia cited Ayan Hassan Abdirahman, who is now paying twice as much as she did just a few months ago to buy the wheat flour she uses to make breakfast each day for her 11 children in Somalia’s capital.

Abdirahman has been trying to make do by substituting sorghum, another more readily available grain, in her flatbread. Inflation, though, means the price of the cooking oil she still needs to prepare it has skyrocketed too — a jar that once cost $16 is now selling for $45 in the markets of Mogadishu.

“The cost of living is high nowadays, making it difficult for families even to afford flour and oil,” she says.

The AP report said:

Nearly all the wheat sold in Somalia comes from Ukraine and Russia, which have halted exports through the Black Sea since Feb. 24.

In the Horn of Africa

The report said:

The timing could not be worse: The U.N. has warned that an estimated 13 million people were facing severe hunger in the Horn of Africa region as a result of a persistent drought.

Haji Abdi Dhiblawe, a businessman who imports wheat flour into Somalia, fears the situation will only worsen: There is also a looming shortage of shipping containers to bring food supplies in from elsewhere at the moment.

“Somalis have no place to grow wheat, and we are not even familiar with how to grow it,” he says. “Our main concern now is what will the future hold for us when we currently run out of supplies.”


The AP report said:

Another 18 million people are facing severe hunger in the Sahel, the part of Africa just below the Sahara Desert where farmers are enduring their worst agricultural production in more than a decade. The U.N. World Food Program says food shortages could worsen when the lean season arrives in late summer.

“Acute hunger is soaring to unprecedented levels and the global situation just keeps on getting worse. Conflict, the climate crisis, COVID-19 and surging food and fuel costs have created a perfect storm — and now we’ve got the war in Ukraine piling catastrophe on top of catastrophe,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned earlier this month.

Even the cost of therapeutic food for malnourished children could rise 16% over the next six months because of the war in Ukraine and disruptions related to the pandemic, UNICEF says.

African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to U.N. figures. The African Development Bank is already reporting a 45% increase in wheat prices on the continent, making everything from couscous in Mauritania to the fried donuts sold in Congo more expensive for customers.

“Africa has no control over production or logistics chains and is totally at the mercy of the situation,” said Senegalese President Macky Sall, the African Union chairperson, who has said he will travel to Russia and Ukraine to discuss the price woes.

Moscow Is Ready To Make Significant Contribution

The report said:

Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed the West last week to lift sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame from Russia to the West for a growing world food crisis that has been worsened by Ukraine’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products while under attack.

Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” according to the Kremlin.

Western officials have dismissed the Russian claims.

The report added:

In Cameroon, baker Sylvester Ako says he has seen his daily clientele drop from 300 customers a day to only 100 since bread prices jumped 40% because of the lack of wheat imports. He’s already let three of his seven employees go, and worries that he will have to shutter his Yaounde business entirely unless something changes.

“The price of a 50-kilogram bag of wheat now sells at $60 — up from about $30 — and the supply is not regular,” Ako said.

Along with the shortfall in wheat imports, the African Development Bank is also warning of a potential 20% decline in food production on the continent because farmers are having to pay 300% more for their imported fertilizer.

The organization says it plans to address the issues through a $1.5 billion plan that will provide farmers in Africa with certified seeds, fertilizer and other help. Reducing dependence on foreign imports is part of the strategy, but those economic transitions are likely to take years, not months.

Senegal’s president says appetites can pivot more quickly. He is encouraging Africans to consume local grains that were once the staples of their diets.

“We must also change our eating habits,” Sall said. ”We dropped millet and started importing rice from Asia. Now we only know how to eat rice and we do not produce enough. We only know how to eat bread. We do not produce wheat.”

Aid Projects Are Threatened

A Reuters report from Dakar said about a small charity broke ground this year on a clinic in northern Burkina Faso to care for thousands of women and children who have fled Islamist insurgents wreaking havoc along the fringes of the Sahara.

According to the Reuters report, when the Ukraine war began, global supply chains buckled and the cost of building materials, fuel and food spiked in West Africa. The charity’s founder, Boukary Ouedraogo, was forced to make a tough decision: he halted construction of the clinic with only the foundations laid.

Similar calls are being made across sub-Saharan Africa, where aid projects are threatened by the fallout from the war in Ukraine, potentially putting millions of lives at risk.

Ouedraogo’s clinic was desperately needed in Kaya, a town of dirt streets and squat brick buildings surrounded by arid scrubland. Its population has swelled in recent years as thousands of people from surrounding villages flee militant attacks, straining the already basic health care system.

“What happened in Ukraine happened at the same time as the crisis in this country got worse,” said Ouedraogo, who runs the BO Foundation in Burkina Faso.

“We hope all the donors can keep their attention,” he said. “We felt what we were doing was going to reduce the number of deaths and infant mortality.”

Humanitarian agencies already struggling with widespread price increases under the pandemic say the crisis in Europe has made things worse. Even the cost of life-saving therapeutic foods for malnourished children has spiked.

Diverting Aid: From Africa to Europe

Compounding the problem, some donors have diverted state aid from Africa’s worst-hit countries to help support more than six million refugees who have fled the fighting in Ukraine.


The report said:

Denmark said in March it was halving its aid to Burkina Faso this year to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. Its budget for Burkina’s neighbor Mali, also in the grips of an Islamist insurgency, has dropped 40%.


The Reuters report said:

Sweden has also said it plans to divert $1 billion from its aid budget to help cover the cost of hosting Ukrainian refugees.


It is a similar story in Sudan. In a southern area faced with conflict and food shortages, a paediatric clinic run by Senegal-based medical charity Alima faces a $300,000 funding gap due to an increase in costs, including fuel for the clinic’s generator.

At this rate, Alima will have to shut the program down, said its director of operations, Kader Issaley.

Action Against Hunger, a charity with operations across Africa, has seen the cost of foodstuffs such as rice, oil and sugar rise 20% to 30% over the past year.

This will reduce its coverage by the same amount, said Mamadou Diop, a representative from its West Africa office.

“We have to totally rethink our approach,” said Diop. “We must decide, do we reduce supply or reduce the number of beneficiaries?”

Not Only In Africa

The Reuters report said:

The problem is not limited to Africa. The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) feeds 13 million people a month in Yemen, where the economy has been wrecked by years of war, but it has reduced rations for 8 million of them since January.

It may have to make further cuts, after raising only a quarter of the $2 billion it needs for Yemen this year from international donors.

“We are taking food from the poor and feeding the hungry,” said WFP representative to Yemen, Richard Ragan.

“In June we will have to make some tough decisions about possibly even going down to just feeding five million, those who are really most at risk,” he said

Ethiopia, Somalia, DRC

The report said:

Conflict in Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sahel region have forced millions to flee their homes. Nearly half a billion people live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

West Africa alone faces an unprecedented food shortage that threatens nearly 40 million people, driven in part by drought and the impact of the war in Ukraine on food prices and supply.

The impact of higher costs on aid organizations varies, health specialists say.

Smaller non-profits reliant on institutional donors such as governments for yearly budgets may struggle more than a larger charity such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, which raises money through public campaigns.

MSF said it did not foresee cutting back its operations due to the war in Ukraine.

But few are immune. A drop in funding that preceded the Ukraine war has forced WFP to cut rations in seven countries in West and Central Africa.


The Reuters report added:

In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, the number of people receiving emergency assistance from WFP has dropped from 1.9 million in September to 650,000.

Like Burkina Faso and Mali, northern Nigeria is also wracked by a prolonged Islamist insurgency.

Health specialists and aid workers said it was too early to assess exactly what the impact on communities will be and it could take months to see how much damage the cutbacks cause.

“Further funding shortfalls will contribute to worsening food security and nutrition in locations where food insecurity is already at emergency levels,” said WFP spokesman for Western Africa, Djaounsede Madjiangar.

The report cited a child from Somalia:

One-year-old Hassan howled in a blue plastic bucket suspended from a scale as a medical technician noted his weight: 5.6 kg.

The report said:

It was an improvement. Hassan weighed only 5.2 kg when he first began receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition at a clinic run by aid workers in the south of the country three months ago – about half what a boy his age should weigh.

His partial recovery is thanks to a sweet peanut paste called Plumpy’Nut developed by French scientists in the 1990s that has become a crucial weapon in the fight against child malnutrition.

Three small sachets a day for six weeks can be enough to bring a starving child back to full health, according to U.N. children’s charity UNICEF.

“He used to be much worse,” said the boy’s mother, Hasan Habiba Mohammed Nur, patting his bony legs under an oversized T-shirt. “The Plumpy’Nut has really helped him.”

UNICEF says it spends $137 million a year on therapeutic food and the overall market is estimated to be worth up to $400 million.

But aid agencies say it is becoming too expensive.

Over the past year, the cost of Plumpy’Nut has risen 23%, including a 9% increase imposed since the Ukraine crisis began, Plumpy’Nut’s main producer Nutriset, told Reuters.

In a letter to customers in March warning of impending price increases, it said the cost of ingredients such as palm oil, milk powder and whey, and packaging including laminate for the sachets, had risen sharply. Shipping expenses have also rocketed. In all, costs are up 39%, Nutriset said.

“The war in Ukraine is indirectly impacting the price of raw materials, and prices will continue to increase even more in the weeks and months to come,” Nutriset said.

The increases worry UNICEF. It predicts that prices of therapeutic foods will rise 16% in the next six months because of Ukraine and pandemic disruptions. Without further funding, 600,000 more children may miss out on treatment, it said in May.

The effects are already being felt, aid workers say.

Alima’s budget to buy and ship a batch of Plumpy’Nut to a project in an impoverished area in the southeast of Democratic Republic of Congo is about 175,000 euros ($188,000).

But with a rise in fuel costs and the price of Plumpy’Nut, the shipment now costs 230,000 euros, said Hassan Bouziane, who runs logistics at Alima.

He now has to go to donors to get more cash, taking up valuable time.

“The impact on the beneficiaries will be huge,” said Bouziane. “The treatment for a child of five years old is six weeks. When you lose two weeks, that is a third of their treatment.”

2 Of The World’s Top Rice Producers Are discussing Hiking Prices

Two of the world’s top rice producers are in discussions to raise prices together, Reuters reported, citing Thai government spokesperson Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

“We aim to raise rice prices, increase farmer income and increase bargaining power in the global market,” Thanakorn said on Friday, per Reuters. “The rice price has been low for more than 20 years while the cost of production has been increasing.”

Thailand and Vietnam are the world’s second- and third-largest rice exporters after India. A price increase in the staple grain would be bad news for billions of people across the world, especially as it comes on top of soaring wheat prices.

Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told reporters on Friday that the country’s rice exports are getting a boost this year due to a recovery in global demand and as the country’s currency falls to a five-year low against the US dollar, which is used in the trade of commodities internationally, per Bloomberg.

Vietnam’s agriculture ministry did not immediately respond to Insider’s or Reuters’ requests for comments.

Vietnam’s Food Association played down the prospect of measures to boost prices ahead of a June meeting with its Thai counterparts.

“The meeting will focus on measures to cooperate in sustainable food production,” Nguyen Ngoc Nam, the chairman of Vietnam’s Food Association, told Reuters. “It is not reasonable to talk about raising or controlling rice prices at this time when the global food price is on the rise.”

Neither Thailand nor Vietnam are facing a shortage in rice supply this year, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture. However, like in many countries, inflation in both countries has risen sharply in the last year, putting pressure on the government to soften the impact on their populations. About 30% and 40% of the population in Thailand and Vietnam respectively are employed in the agricultural sector, according to the United Nations.

Consumer prices in Thailand are hovering around a 13-year high, having gained 4.71% on-year in April, according to data from the country’s Commerce Ministry. Prices in Vietnam rose 2.86% on-year in May, according to data from the country’s statistics office.

But consumers could turn to other major exporters for rice — like top exporter India — for supplies.

“If Thailand and Vietnam try to jack up the prices, obviously price-sensitive buyers in Africa will shift towards India,” B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association, told Reuters. He said neither country has approached India about participating in a rice cartel, Reuters reported.

Benchmark export prices for Thai rice have averaged $420 a metric ton this year — 16% higher than India’s $363 a ton, per Reuters.

Indian trade and government sources told Reuters on Friday that there were no plans to limit rice exports.

The Crisis May Spread To Sugar

Other media reports said:

Sugar prices are expected to soar due to the export restrictions imposed by a number of key producing nations seeking to tame rising domestic food prices.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which seriously undermined global supply chains, has been dramatically aggravated by the crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions imposed on Russia. The conflict between the two major grain exporters has disrupted global supplies.

A number of countries have moved to limit exports of other key commodities, putting global food security under threat, while risking further increases in the prices of agricultural products.


On Monday, Kazakhstan began a six-month ban on white and cane sugar exports. India is reportedly considering placing restrictions on sugar exports for the first time in six years to prevent a surge in domestic prices. India’s ban is expected to target around 10 million tons of this season’s exports.


Last week, Reuters reported that sugar cane mills in Brazil, the world’s biggest producer and exporter of sugar, were canceling sugar export contracts and shifting production to ethanol in an attempt to take advantage of the high energy prices. The estimated cancelations could equate up to 400,000 tons of raw sugar.


Earlier this month, Pakistan imposed a complete ban on sugar exports, citing deep concerns about inflation. In March, Russia banned sugar exports until the end of August.

“For sugar, it’s relatively easy for Brazilian mills to switch production to ethanol production if the economics make sense, and this can push global sugar markets higher,” Darin Friedrichs, founder and market research director at Sitonia Consulting, a Shanghai-based commodities analysis firm, told the South China Morning Post.

“In particular, as both food and energy prices are rising, there is increased focus on the use of food for the production of fuel,” he added.

Earlier this week, the head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, warned that the global economy is facing “its biggest test since the Second World War.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said global hunger levels “are at a new high,” with the number of people facing severe food insecurity doubling in just two years, from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today.

However, Dong Xiaoqiang, the commercial head of AB Sugar China, said he does not expect a global shortage of sugar this year despite mounting concerns, adding that India and Thailand, the world’s second largest sugar producer and number two exporter respectively, are expected to increase their sugar output in 2022.

“What has happened recently is more a show of emotional tension over the supply of food including sugar,” Dong told the media. “Most countries that announced export bans are small sugar producers with a tight balance between supply and demand, and not many contracts have been cancelled in Brazil,” he said, while adding that prices are still expected to surge.

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