The war in Ukraine grows worse by the day, with an estimated 1,500 civilians killed and more than 3 million forced to seek refuge in other countries, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Stopping the war as soon as possible is essential for saving lives, protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, and curbing global repercussions.
In particular, the war has had a devastating impact on local food production. Since the global food system is a fragile web of interconnections, many countries dependent on Russia and Ukraine for food and agricultural supplies now face immediate and looming food shortages that will inevitably worsen the global hunger crisis.
“I am deeply concerned that the violent conflict in Ukraine, already a catastrophe for those directly involved, will also be a tragedy for the world’s poorest people living in rural areas who cannot absorb the price hikes of staple foods and farming inputs that will result from disruptions to global trade,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in a statement.
“We are already seeing price hikes and this could cause an escalation of hunger and poverty with dire implications for global stability.”
IFAD, a Global Citizen partner, has teams worldwide working to support small-scale producers and improve food security in rural areas of developing countries that have documented the ways in which the war in Ukraine has worsened existing food crises.
The impact has been particularly devastating in agricultural contexts, where the ability to acquire and distribute food is always a vexed ordeal due to chronic underfunding. But new crises are emerging as a result of the disruptions caused by the war.
Many farmers and food producers are still struggling to recover from the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the war is making it harder.
“IFAD is committed to increasing the resilience of the world’s poorest rural producers who are critical for producing a third of the world’s food. We must do all we can to ensure they have the resources to keep producing food and be protected from additional shocks,” said Houngbo.
“In the short-term, however, it will be difficult to mitigate the global impacts of this crisis. I join the UN Secretary-General’s call to end the conflict now and restore peace. It is the only solution to avert global catastrophe.”
According to analysis by IFAD and other organizations, here are five ways the war has already worsened global hunger.
1. Rising Fuel Prices
Already, millions of smallholder farmers that provide food to their communities operate on tight margins that have been strained even further by the climate crisis. Now, rising fuel prices caused in part by the war have made it difficult for many farmers to carry out basic tasks.
In Somalia, where an estimated 3.8 million people face severe food insecurity, electricity and transportation prices are climbing, and diesel-powered irrigation methods have become prohibitively expensive, IFAD reports.
2. Rising Prices for Food Imports
Russia and Ukraine account for approximately 25% of global wheat exports, with around 40% of wheat and corn exports from both countries going to the Middle East and Africa, according to IFAD. Egypt, for example, gets 85% of its wheat and 73% of its sunflower oil from these two countries.
As a result of the war, prices on imported food have been surging, making it harder for families to afford.
3. Rising Fertilizer Prices
Fertilizer helps farmers improve their crop yields to meet global food demand. Russia is the leading exporter of fertilize and, as a result of the war, many smallholder farmers have been unable to buy the fertilizer they need. Even before the conflict, spikes in fertilizer prices last year contributed to a rise in food prices by about 30 percent.”
In some countries like Rwanda, a lack of fertilizer could halve harvests, leading to local and regional food shortages.
4. Increasing Poverty
Remittances — when migrant workers send money back home — keep the global economy churning, helping many communities worldwide afford the basic necessities of life. The COVID-19 pandemic already significantly reduced the ability of workers to earn and send money home. Now, for families relying on their relatives earning income in Russia and Ukraine, remittances have nearly ceased.
IFAD reports that more than 31% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP comes from remittances from Russia alone. Now that the war has disrupted this flow of money, migrants’ families in rural areas may battle to access food, education and other necessities.
5. Immediate Food Shortages
The war has caused urgent food crises in many countries including Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, a country that gets 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The 2020 Beirut explosion destroyed major grain silos, limiting the country’s ability to store food, according to IFAD. Now that their regular supply of wheat has been cut off, local prices are surging and shortages are occurring.
In Iraq, riots have emerged as a result of growing food shortages.
Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Yemen was already facing looming famine. Now the country’s food security is rapidly deteriorating, with the World Food Programme calling for immediate global assistance, especially as humanitarian funds get diverted.
“We are looking at a seismic hunger crisis if we do not step up now. Unless we receive immediate funds, hungry people will lose assistance right at the time they need it most,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the WFP, during a pledging event for Yemen.
“Funding for Yemen has never reached this point. We have no choice but to take food from the hungry to feed the starving.”