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Ukraine war fuels food crisis in distant Africa

Zimbabwean security guard Edwin Dapi was already struggling to provide for his wife and four children before a conflict 11,000 km (6,800 miles) away in Ukraine sent global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Now his monthly pay of 18,000 Zimbabwe dollars, worth roughly $55 at the black market rate used at many informal markets, is stretched to breaking point.

At a supermarket in Mabvuku, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital Harare, the 46-year-old was fretting over his family’s next meal.

He reached for a 2-litre (0.5 gallon) bottle of vegetable oil, but at 990 Zimbabwean dollars it was more than he could afford. So was a 2 kg (4.4 lb) bag of flour for 390 Zimbabwean dollars.

“I keep hearing it’s because of Ukraine, but I don’t know what that has to do with us,” he said, scratching oil and flour from his grocery list.

United Nations agencies are warning that price hikes sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will worsen a food crisis in Africa, where tens of millions of people have already been plunged into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shocks and economic turmoil.

Last year, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 193 million people considered to be acutely food insecure worldwide, a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises, set up by the United Nations and the European Union, said this month.

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has struggled to feed itself since the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms to resettle black families, a policy championed by Zimbabwe’s late president Robert Mugabe during the 2000s.

More recently, its economy has been throttled by drought and cyclones, rolling electricity cuts, foreign currency shortages and runaway inflation.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that some 5.3 million Zimbabweans – around a third of the population – are food insecure.

To make ends meet, Dapi said he was making plans to move his family to his home village of Mutoko, some 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Harare. “I must reduce my rent and school fees because everything is going up, except my salary,” he said.

Across Africa, food insecurity is on the rise. More than 2 million children are at risk of starving to death in the Horn of Africa, where parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are facing their driest conditions in more than 40 years, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told donors in Geneva on April 26.

In Ethiopia, a civil war has pushed hundreds of thousands of people into famine conditions. Millions more are at risk in South Sudan, where a war that ended in 2020 caused widespread destruction, compounded by some of the worst flooding in generations. [L3N2NW2JD]

West Africa is facing its worst food crisis on record, driven by Islamist insurgencies that have forced millions of people off their land in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The region has also seen worsening floods and droughts linked to global warming. [L5N2W23Z3]

The conflict in Ukraine is making a dire situation even worse.

The war has disrupted shipping in the Black Sea, a major artery for grains and other commodities, throttling exports from Russia and Ukraine to markets including Africa. Ukraine has said the area sown with grains could fall by around a fifth this year because of the war.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, assistant director-general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its representative for Africa, said nearly half of the continent’s 54 countries rely on Russia and Ukraine for wheat imports. Russia is also a major supplier of fertilizer to at least 11 countries.

“This Ukraine war’s impact is overlapping with a crisis that has already been unfolding in some African countries,” Abebe told Reuters. “We have a very grim outlook going forward.”

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