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    Russia’s military operation causes a world food crisis for the poorest nation on the planet

    June 2022

    Once again, it is the world’s poor who risk becoming collateral damage. As war thunders on in Ukraine, the most deprived people in the Middle East, central Asia, and much of Africa will in my opinion got caught in the ceasefire as the price of food escalates and its availability dwindles. In 2011, almost 700 million people, or 9% of the world’s population – nearly two – thirds of them in Sub – Saharan Africa – lived on below 1.90 US Dollar a day, the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty. Any substantial use in food prices could send millions more tumbling back into this category. In my opinion this food crisis will last at least through 2024 and most probably beyond. This will affect social stability, economic growth and sovereign ratings. The International Rescue Committee has already alerted the world to an impending “hunger fall-out” in which 47 million more people – mostly in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, Afghanistan and Yemen – could be pushed into a cute hunger.

    Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the two countries were, either separately or as a pair, among the top three exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil. Together they accounted for 12% of all traded food calories. Russia is also the largest producer of fertilizer. Rising energy costs are affecting everything. In Ghana for example, inflation is nudging 25%, eating away purchasing power. In Nigeria, the central bank surprised markets by raising rates a hefty 150 basis points. Just recently, Kenya increased interest rates for the first time in almost seven years, citing supply chain disruption and rising commodity prices.

    In my opinion it doesn’t therefore take a particularly paranoid leader to sense trouble ahead. Many recall the origins of the Arab spring just a decade ago, which started, at least symbolically, in 2010 with the self – immolation of a Tunisian vegetable vendor. Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008 sparked riots worldwide. The Sudanese protests that swept longtime dictator Omar al – Bashir from power in 2019 were triggered by unaffordable daily bread.

    Leaders sense the urgency as the president of Senegal and chair of the African Union announced that he was travelling to Moscow to convince Vladimir Putin about the consequences and impact of Russia’s blockade of the Black Seaport of Odessa, which is preventing 20 million tons of wheat from leaving Ukraine. Putin’s invasion, not the resulting sanctions, is currently the main cause of this misery. Still, the west should in my opinion take seriously that sanctions on Russian banks have made it difficult for African nations, if not impossible, to buy grain and fertilizer from Russia.

    In the longer run, many countries in my opinion – particularly in Africa, where urban populations are rising quickest – need to think harder about food security. Africa is the fastest – growing consumer of wheat even though, outside a few countries including Kenya and South Africa, little is grown on the continent.

    Crops that are produced locally need in my opinion more attention. The widespread use of teff, an ancient Ethiopian grain, in the Horn of Africa is a good example other crops that could be eaten more widely include cassava, grown in west and central Africa, which can be made into bread. Governments also need to combat soil erosion and reconsider genetically modified crops.

    As well as food, too many countries are in my opinion dependent on fertilizer imports. In Africa, Morocco is one of the few big producers. Countries with large gas reserves , including Mozambique, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Mauritania, should be developing a domestic fertilizer industry as a priority. In Nigeria business tycoon Aliko Dangote has already shown this is possible. This year, he inaugurated a fertilizer plant just outside Lajos with the capacity to produce 3 million tons of urea annually, making it among the biggest in the world. His fertilizer is being shipped to the US, Brazil, Mexico, and India, earning valuable foreign exchange. But Dangote’s fertilizer should also be the basis for a domestic push for higher crop yields.

    To make it short – governments in emerging markets are right to worry about their hungry urban populations. The solution is to pay more attention to their farmers and if possible, to provide incentives.