Why the war in Ukraine threatens global food security

Why the war in Ukraine threatens global food security
Russia and Ukraine only produce about 0.9% of the world's grain but as they account for about 30% of traded grain, their supply has a huge effect on global food prices. / bne IntelliNews
By Statista October 27, 2022

More than six weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there’s no end in sight to the conflict that has shaken the world to its very core. Aside from the immense suffering caused by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the war is also having major repercussions around the world, especially on food security, Statista said in a note.

The head of the United Nations World Food Programme, David Beasly, recently warned that the war was creating a food crisis “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II", leading to surging food prices and possibly shortages in many countries that rely on exports from Russia or Ukraine.

As the following chart, based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), shows, Ukraine and Russia are major producers of wheat, barley and maize, accounting for an average (combined) share of 27%, 23% and 15% of global exports between 2016 and 2020 respectively. Even the World Food Programme itself gets 50% of its grain supplies from the Ukraine-Russia area and is now facing dramatic cost increases in its efforts to combat food emergencies around the world.

“This is a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe,” WFP director Beasley said, referring to the devastating effect the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on world hunger. According to the UN organisation, the number of people facing acute food insecurity had jumped from 135mn to 276mn since 2019 – and that’s not even taking the conflict in Ukraine into account. In total, more than 800mn face hunger around the world, while 44mn people in 38 countries are teetering on the edge of famine, according to WFP.


Infographic: Why the War in Ukraine Threatens Global Food Security | Statista

The war in Ukraine is endangering crucial wheat supplies in many of the least developed countries in the world. Among them, countries in Africa and the Middle East in particular are heavily dependent on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. According to the UN Comtrade database, Benin and Somalia used to obtain all of their wheat from Ukraine and/or Russia. The dependency of Egypt stood at 82%, according to the data.

While crop failures are to be expected in Ukraine in 2022, Russia imposed an export ban on products such as wheat until the end of June 2022, leading observers to predict shortages and rising prices among their trade partners and on the world market. Egypt and Somalia are among the countries where wheat is traditionally used in some of the most common food staples. According to The Guardian, a food shortage had already been looming in the latter country because of a resurgence of conflict and drought, causing international organisations to warn of the risk of severe hunger even before the invasion.

Ukraine and Russia are also among the world’s top exporters of other important food staples. Around two thirds of the global exports of crucial sunflower products like oil and feed come from Ukraine and Russia.

Infographic: The Most Vulnerable Countries Amid Wheat Shortages | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista