Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the food security issue in several African countries, according to Human Rights Watch. Many nations in East, West, Middle, and Southern Africa purchase a large amount of wheat, fertiliser, and vegetable oils from Russia and Ukraine, but the war affects global commodity markets and trade flows to Africa, raising already-high food costs in the region.
“Many countries in Africa were already in a food crisis,” said Lena Simet, senior researcher on poverty and inequality at Human Rights Watch. “Rising prices are compounding the plight of millions of people thrown into poverty by the Covid-19 pandemic, requiring urgent action by governments and the international community.”
Countries in East, West, Middle, and Southern Africa were already dealing with soaring food prices as a result of extreme climate and weather events such as floods, landslides, and droughts. The Covid-19 pandemic also caused disruption to production and global supply chains prior to the Ukraine conflict. Global food prices have risen to new heights since Russia’s invasion. The Food Price Index, a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities, jumped 12.6% from February to March, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Since the measure’s inception in the 1990s, the March index has been at its highest level.
Russia and Ukraine are among the top five global exporters of barley, sunflowers, and maize, and they export approximately a third of all wheat. Nigeria, the fourth largest wheat importer in the world, gets a quarter of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. More than 40% of the wheat imported by Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sudan comes from Russia and Ukraine.
Ukraine provides half of the wheat distributed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). As a result of the war, resources are scarce and prices are rising, notably for fuel, raising the cost of getting food into and out of the region.
“The WFP warned that if the war lasts beyond April, acute hunger may increase by 17% globally, with the sharpest increases expected in countries in East, West, and Southern Africa. They said that the total number of people in these regions experiencing acute food insecurity may rise by 20.8 percent, affecting 174 million people,” Human Rights Watch said.
According to FAO forecasts for 2020 before the war, the expense of nutritious foods, as well as high rates of poverty and inequality, kept good diets out of reach for 66.2% of people in the region. In Africa, 323.2 million individuals, or 29.5% of the population, went hungry or went without food during that year. Food insecurity is considerably more prevalent in West Africa and Middle Africa, with 68.3% and 70% respectively. Under the shadow of the Covid-19 outbreak, the number of people experiencing food insecurity has continued to rise.
“To prevent a hunger crisis, a rights-centered response is vital,” Human Rights Watch said. “Governments should act to protect everyone’s rights to an adequate standard of living, and in particular the right to food, by scaling up emergency food aid and expanding social protection systems. Investing in social protection might be a tall order for many African governments facing high debt levels and stretched fiscal positions after two years of the pandemic. A Global Fund for Social Protection should be set up to increase the level of support to low-income countries, helping them to establish and maintain social protection floors in the form of legal entitlements. Many social protection systems in African countries are at least in part financed and supported by the World Bank, which should ensure that support reaches everyone in need.”