Russia’s large-scale military attack on Ukraine, its southern neighbour, has great consequences for South Africa, warns Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede. The country’s wheat has the biggest impact on food security across the globe.
Trade between Ukraine and South Africa is increasing year by year. In November 2021, South Africa exported products worth R412 million to Ukraine while importing products to the value of R748 million from the country in eastern Europe.
Between November 2020 and November 2021, South Africa’s exports increased by R305 million (284%) from R108.4 million to R412.2 million, while imports saw a 43% increase to R769.3 million.
The top exports from South Africa to Ukraine in 2021 included nickel, a stainless metal used on a large scale in the manufacturing of machinery and containers for the chemical and dairy industries. Other products included propylene polymers, chemical fertilisers and citrus fruits.
In November 2021, the top imports to South Africa from Ukraine were wheat, audio alarms, buckwheat used in making noodles, pancakes and many gluten-free products, industrial printers, dried legumes and linseed.
Russia attacked Europe’s breadbasket
With some of the most fertile soil on earth, Ukraine has been known as Europe’s breadbasket for centuries. Its fast-growing agricultural exports of grain, vegetable oils and a host of other products are crucial to feed populations internationally.
A large part of Ukraine’s most productive agricultural land is located in its eastern regions, exactly those parts that are now being invaded by Russians. What are the implications for food production for the rest of the world which depends on products produced in Ukraine and Russia?
Ukraine is a top exporter of maize, barley and rye, but it is the country’s wheat that has the biggest impact on food security around the world. In 2020, Ukraine exported about 18 million metric tonnes of wheat out of a total harvest of 24 million metric tonnes, making it the world’s fifth largest exporter.
World food prices are already rising along with those of other commodities, and any disruption will lead to further price shocks as importing countries scramble for supplies in a market with limited supplies.
Food insecurity will worsen in many developing countries that depend on certain food products from Ukraine.
Russian intervention in Ukrainian agriculture is nothing new. The terrible famine caused by Soviet policy in Ukraine in the 1930s, also known as the Holodomor and considered by many historians to be a genocide, wiped out the lives of between 4 million and 7 million Ukrainians. There is no doubt that forced grain delivery quotas, collectivisation, deportation, and the murders of farmers and ethnic Ukrainians have led to large-scale famine.
What about gas and petroleum?
South Africa also has trade interests with Russia. In September 2021, Russia exported about R458 million worth of products to South Africa and imported R1.3 billion worth of products from South Africa. Between September 2020 and September 2021, exports from Russia decreased by 28% to R458.4 million. Imports, on the other hand, increased by 24% to R1.3 billion.
In September 2021, Russia’s top exports to South Africa were nitrogenous fertilisers, mixed mineral or chemical fertilisers, petroleum, coal briquettes and medicines. In the same month, Russia’s most important imports were from South Africa: citrus fruits worth R494.5 million, cars, manganese ore, platinum, and apples and pears worth R26.7 million.
Also, the decrease in Russia’s year-on-year exports to South Africa was mainly due to a decrease in wheat exports.
It is certain that a protracted war and a possible clash between world powers have serious implications for food availability and food prices. So, too, for the logistics networks that have to distribute food from one country to another and specifically from Ukraine and Russia to the rest of the world. This also applies to the distribution of gas and petroleum. The rise in the oil price to more than $100 for the first time in seven years does not bode well.
- Christo van der Rheede is the executive director of Agri SA.
This story was originally published in Food For Mzansi.