Zero Hunger: How is Russia’s Invasion Trapping Africa Deeper in the ‘Vicious Cycle of Famine’?

Millions of people across the African continent had already experienced hunger even before the Russia-Ukraine war broke out. The recurring drought due to climate change, the local conflict that led to extreme poverty, and the lack of local government support contribute to the region’s chronic hunger. However, the Russia-Ukraine war exacerbated the never-ending famine in Africa because of the soaring food prices. According to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the invasion induced starvation that grew by 47 million people or 17 per cent, with the most significant increase in sub-Saharian Africa (Husain, 2022).

What is the Vicious Cycle of Famine?

In Africa, famine is a repetitive issue in the same order because of the disrupted food system. The scarcity of food access has never been solved until the root cause because it is difficult to break the cycle from the beginning. Three concepts in the circle—hunger, malnutrition, and poverty—are related to food insecurity that deteriorates the food systems (FAO, 2008). In this cycle, poverty breeds food insecurity, famine, and malnutrition. Then, food insecurity induces poor physical and cognitive development, which leads to low productivity. Finally, the low productivity establishes the first condition—poverty. They are repeated repeatedly in a circle, and Africans are still struggling to get out of the cycle. That is why it is called vicious.

For decades, escaping the famine situation has been extremely difficult in Africa. The United Nations reported almost two million children in the Horn of Africa faced death by starvation in 2022, while famine killed hundreds of thousands of people a decade ago (Farge, 2022). Undernourished people are not suffering from malnutrition because they want to; they are undernourished because the circumstance forces them to. The best way out of famine’s cycle once and for all is good education. But, malnutrition won’t be able to produce cognitive development in education.

The Cycle Before The Russia-Ukraine War

In the 1970s, famine was a natural-made disaster when a drought occurred in the Sahel region. But, chronic hunger worsened in Africa from the beginning of 1980 when the Ethiopian war flame out. Africans could not harvest, and livestock was seized during the wars. The severe drought in the 1980s also happened in the Ogaden, Tigray, and Eritrea. Then, food aid for refugees was destroyed by Ethiopian jets and delayed due to the political complexity of the Ethiopian regime. Therefore, there is a relationship between famine and war because wars cause turmoil in food production (Griffiths, 1988).

Most African areas have disadvantageous characteristics of geography, such as droughts, excessively wet years, and irregular rainfall. However, the primary factor of famine indeed is no capabilities to coordinate their economies during the intractable conflict. In Somalia, they responded to the drought by settling in other territories that expanded the clash rather than attempting to establish a new agriculture method. During the droughts, many people and their cattle fleed in searching for water, violating the traditional clan “boundaries,” resulting in low-level clashes between clan militias (International Crisis Group, 2017). Land grabbing by the businessman from the influential clans also causes the famine due to insufficient local traditional wheat production. As the conflict continues, poverty deepens the continent’s food crisis and leads to starvation.

The Aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Russia plays a crucial role in international trade and is a significant producer of global food commodities, such as wheat and sunflower seed. Nicolas Denis, a partner in McKinsey, stated that Ukraine and Russia are accountable for at least 20 per cent of the global export of grain and 65 per cent of sunflower seeds (Sorongan, 2022). Consequently, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) mentioned that world food commodities prices had increased 20.7 per cent from a year ago since February this year (Emsden, 2022). There will be a possible disruption to the agricultural sector and could solemnly aggravate food insecurity globally when international food prices are expensive.

Food prices soaring have significant poverty repercussions. The implications of high food prices in poverty can be proven when a spike in food prices occurred between 2005 and 2008. The rise of 5.6 per cent in agricultural consumer prices could raise extreme global poverty by 0.6 percentage points (de Hoyos & Medvedev, 2011). Unfortunately, it could apply to the catastrophic event in Africa. Hence, a surging African food crisis is throwing millions of Africans into the pit of hell.

The impacts will shock the most vulnerable countries depending on the reliance on wheat and energy from Russia and Ukraine (Weersink & Massow, 2022). Following Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s military has halted commercial cargo at its ports, causing prominent grain and oilseed supply disruptions. Plenty of countries in Africa import a large portion of the grain, fertiliser, and vegetable oils from these countries (Human Rights Watch, 2022). In March this year, the authorities of Cameroon stated that the war in Russia had caused a wheat shortage, which has resulted in a 40 per cent spike in bread prices. Moreover, Russia and Ukraine recorded importing 31 per cent of wheat to Nigeria in 2021. The war will certainly bring the price of bread to its highest price, which was already expensive due to fuel shortages even before the Ukraine war. The conflict truly affects wheat export supply chains to Africa and causes a sudden rise in food prices.

They can’t access the food because of repetitive droughts that prevent them from building more resilient food systems. That is why they rely primarily on importing food from Russia. However, the intractable clash in Africa and the unforeseen Russia-Ukraine war determine the degree of food crisis there. Ending the wars locally and internationally is crucial, but ending the conflict is a long-term problem-solving. Therefore, the local government needs to partner with the international community, such as INGOs and multinational private sector companies, to assist Africa in becoming self-sufficient. Moreover, improving the political courage to open the food supply chain for Africa could stop thousands of people from dying of starvation.

In conclusion, the relationship between local and global conflicts outside the region repeats the vicious cycle. Famine is an issue that has no end in Africa, poverty continues to rise, and hunger is at its peak level. Poverty in Africa has existed since the 1970s due to the drought and local clashes. Subsequently, the famine emerged after access to food was hampered. The misery worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine war might turn the region into the ‘graveyard of living.’ This essay underlines that famine’s vicious circle in Africa is arduous to break. Finding the answer to famine is challenging for us; on the one hand, solving this issue will improve many people’s lives. Stop the wars is most likely help Africans from hunger.

Auliya Febriyanti
Auliya Febriyanti
Auliya Febriyanti studies international relations with a focused interest in global security and peace at Brawijaya University, Indonesia. She is currently drawn to non-traditional security issues and wishes to develop research regarding human security.