How will the war in Ukraine affect global food security, particularly Africa and the Middle East?

South African food expert Lawrence Haddad shares predictions and opportunities.

How will the war in Ukraine affect global food security, particularly Africa and the Middle East?
South African food expert Lawrence Haddad shares

BONN, Germany The war in Ukraine has far-reaching consequences. Within the country, the impact of lives lost, cities destroyed, and families displaced is unfathomable. And, the ripple effects around the globe will impact many more lives, too.  

 On 24 March, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) ran a GLF Live session (watch it here) with food expert, 2018 World Food Prize winner and executive director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) Lawrence Haddad to hear his predictions, concerns, and potential solutions to the unfolding food security challenges.

Spikes in food, livestock feed and fertilizer prices will spare no one, said Haddad, but certain regions of the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, will bear the brunt of the growing food crisis more than others. While stressing that huge gaps in data availability make it impossible to track changes in real time, he draws upon experiences in COVID-19 to anticipate that increases in hunger this year will exceed those laid out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) by 50 or 60 million people. 

“We are in for a period of turbulence that will last another decade or so, and so it feels to me that this is the time for resilience, diversity, diversification, circularity and reducing food waste,” he said. 

Around a third of global cereal exports (wheat, maize and barley) come from Russia and Ukraine, which are often called the “breadbasket of the world.” Russia is also the world’s largest fertilizer producer, while Ukraine exports over half of all sunflower oil. Together, the two countries produce 12 percent of all calories traded globally. 

Haddad also expects famine to become increasingly common and widespread, child hunger and malnutrition rates to rise with particularly detrimental effects to children under the age of 3, mass migration due to food shortages as has not been seen before, and supply chain disruptions to severely impact the work of small- and medium-sized enterprises and farmers, which are the backbone of global food systems.

“For me the word famine comes to mind a lot,” he said. “I don’t think about the word famine too often, because you think of it as a thing of the past, but I think we’re going to be seeing that word a lot more in the press in the coming weeks and months.”

As EU leaders together draft a proposal to address the food crisis, which could be released as soon as Wednesday, 30 March, Haddad said the “key thing” is for trade to remain open and moving freely internally within countries and across borders. He further urged for the following short- and long-term mitigation tactics: 

  • Rapid increases in funding for humanitarian and aid organizations, such as the World Food Programme, which currently has a USD 8 billion shortfall 
  • The expansion of targeted social protection coverage, particularly aimed at farmers and small- and medium-sized enterprises within food supply chains 
  • Regionalizing food production to decrease food dependencies across distances, including investing more into regenerative agriculture and low-impact production systems 
  • Developed country governments giving further backing and support to leadership in developing countries, particularly in Africa 

“So the big message for me is that we need to diversify much more,” he said.

“The price we may have to pay is a higher price of food, because they are probably less economically efficient than the industrialized processes,” he said of the need to shift toward regional production. “But the industrialized processes have too many environmental costs, too many health costs and too many resilience costs.” 


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