President Macky Sall of Senegal recently visited Vladimir Putin to lobby on behalf of Africa. There is an economic stranglehold on Ukraine plus sanctions against Russia and Belarus with the result that Africans are suffering.
Africa relies on cheap Ukrainian and Russian wheat. Ukraine alone grows enough of it to feed 400 million people and together with Russia accounts for a third of the world’s wheat exports. The traditional route for Ukrainian wheat is through the Black Sea but Russia’s blockade has ended this source of food for Africa.
Mr. Putin’s response was to ask Mr. Sall to lobby the West to end its sanctions on Belarus (although foodstuffs and food companies like Cargill have been specifically excluded). The wheat could then be exported through there. Russia is a close friend of Belarus which, of course, supports Russia’s position on Ukraine.
So, as food prices have skyrocketed, Africans have become the unintended and unfortunate victims of another European conflict. There is also the question of the next growing season and whether farmers will be able to work as usual during an ongoing war.
The other principal factors influencing food security are climate, technology and loss of farmland. Global warming is increasing temperatures an average of 0.2C every 10 years and warming increases the chances of drought. Technology can elevate production through improved varieties with higher yields as well as by improving farm management. Finally, loss of farmland to non-food crops earning more for the landowner reduces the food produced.
Brazil grows sugarcane, using about half the crop towards the production of ethanol, and it accounts for 20 percent of transport fuel. Oddly enough this is a consequence of the 1973 oil embargo by OPEC countries that targeted the West for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war. It affected others as well, including Brazil.
Thus one has to add conflict to the list of reasons for food shortages, bringing us back full circle to the Ukraine war. Yulia Svyrydenko, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, has called upon the international community to create a corridor for safe passage to enable the export of the millions of tons of wheat stuck in Ukraine. Under present conditions, when some are calling Putin a war criminal, it is difficult to visualize an easy solution; and yet food exports could well be the lever Putin needs to secure an end to the war with his gains mostly intact.
Making matters worse with regard to wheat is India’s decision, announced May 13th, to ban its export. That country has its own problems. Unseasonably hot weather has affected the wheat crop and that plus soaring prices led to the government’s action.
It is a complicated world and one can have nothing but sympathy for a poor Senegalese looking to put food on the table for his family.