By Dr. Fabien Sundjo and Dr. Fuein Vera Kum (Download pdf version)
The Russia-Ukraine Conflict and Food Security in CEMAC Countries
Before “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” most countries in Central, West, East, and Southern Africa had already been experiencing and trying to curtail soaring food prices. This price rise resulted from climate change issues like drought, floods, and landslides, coupled with the recent COVID-19 pandemic (World Bank, 2022), which significantly affected the global supply chain. In Cameroon, for instance, the food crisis has been exacerbated by Boko-Haram violence and the socio-political unrest in the Far North and English-speaking regions. While these African countries relied so much on Russia and Ukraine to salvage and completely eradicate food-related crises, the war between these two countries is raising a major shock to the global food markets.
This has worsened the food security crisis in Africa and CEMAC in particular, according to Human Rights Watch (2022). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2022), from February to March 2022, the Food Price Index increased by 12.6% due to the war, with the March 2022 index recording the highest since the creation of the index in the 1990s. With the war in Ukraine, food security, which concerns the supply of food and access to it, is raising fears of a global food crisis, especially as these two countries are considered the “breadbasket” not only for Europe but the world as a whole. This paper seeks to present these two countries in terms of the global supply chain and the implication of the war on food security in CEMAC countries before proposing the way forward.
Russia and Ukraine as Major Producers of Food-Related Products
Russia and Ukraine are prominent actors in the global trade of food and agricultural-related products. They are important exporters of both agricultural and non-agricultural products in the world. The Russian Federation and Ukraine have recorded a significant competitive advantage in international trade due to their low-cost wheat production. In 2021, their export accounted for 30% of wheat in the global market (Human Right Watch, 2022). Russia is classified as the third largest producer of wheat in the world. In 2021, Ukraine stood as the 4th largest maize exporter, with 16% of the market share (European Parliament 2022). In the same light and according to FAO statistics of 2022, the cumulative production of sunflower seeds for these two countries stood at more than 26.4 million tons, or 50.2% of world production (World Food Program, 2022).
In addition, sunflower oil exports from these two countries represented 78% of the global supply WFP (2022). The Russian Federation, in 2021, was ranked the first leading exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the second leading supplier of potassium, and the third largest exporter of phosphorous fertilizer in the world. According to Human Right Watch (2022), about 50 countries depend on these two countries for about 30% of imported wheat. Several countries, especially low- and middle-income countries in North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, depend solely on wheat imported from these countries to leverage food insecurity-related problems. In this light, the present war cannot be without effect on vulnerable economies like those in the CEMAC region.
Consequences of the War on the CEMAC Food Security
There is an ongoing international concern that the war in Ukraine will stimulate global food crises with ramifications reaching far-off vulnerable countries, such as those in the CEMAC zone who are currently facing severe drought conditions and a strong dependence on imports from both Ukraine and Russia. Among the six countries from CEMAC, none of them are food self-sufficient as they all depend on imported food to cover domestic consumption needs. These countries significantly depend on fertilizer, wheat, vegetable oil, and corn from Ukraine and Russia. CEMAC is a net importer of sunflower oil and wheat. For example, according to MIT Media Lab (2020), wheat was the fifth most imported product in Cameroon, which primarily came from Russia and amounted to $81.8 million.
The present war is affecting the CEMAC food market through increased prices of fertilizer, wheat, and vegetable oil. Disruption in the supply chain has resulted due to the embargo placed on grain supply and those originating from the financial sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States of America (USA) and the European Union. The financial sanctions and the restrictions on grain supply are increasing the cost of production, which in turn increases the prices of final products. In addition, the deficiency of access to fertilizers will significantly affect production, especially in arid areas in the CEMAC zone.
The effect of these exogenous shocks is exacerbating food price increases that were already at unacceptable levels. The effect of this food price increase, especially on the poor in these low-income countries who spend a significant share of their income on food, is devastating as it reduces access to food and hence nutritional security. For instance, according to Cameroon’s National Institute of Statistics, 2022, the rise in food prices averaged 7.6 % between February 2021 and February 2022, and the 40% increase in the price of bread was caused by the rising cost of products from Ukraine and Russia. In major cities like Yaoundé and Douala, a 50-kilogram bag of flour moved from 19,000 CFA to 22,000 CFA (Human Right Watch, 2022).
The interconnectivity of the agricultural sector with the manufacturing and service sector has indirectly created an increase in the prices of products that do not originate from Ukraine or Russia as indirect ramifications. With this significant food price inflation, one could presume the existence of a real unannounced devaluation, as the CFA used in this zone has lost its value. Today, because of this food price increase, purchasing power has been reduced, and the value of pensions and savings has been reduced. This will inevitably cause many to be acutely food insecure and hence reduce the standard of living of the poor citizens in this region.
Solutions to Salvage the Food Crises
Access to affordable food supply should be a priority for governments and donors in African countries. This should be done by combining both social protection efforts and setting up an emergency and economic assistance scheme. If this fails to happen, then millions of Africans may experience hunger.
According to the African human rights law, everyone has the right to adequate and sufficient food. Hence, governments are obliged to enact and initiate policies to make sure everyone can afford safe and nutritious food. Therefore, social protection systems put in place are key to realizing the right to food.
The continuous persistence of the Russia-Ukraine crisis is very detrimental to food security challenges within the CEMAC sub-region, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving households in very precarious positions. This has disrupted Africa’s promising recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by raising food and fuel prices and disrupting the trade of goods and services.
1. World Bank. (2022). Food Security and COVID-19. Brief. Washington DC, USA: World Bank. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/brief/food-security-and-covid-19
2. Human Right Watch (2022): Ukraine/Russia: As War Continues, Africa Food Crisis Looms, Human Right Watch
3. European Parliament (2022) Russia’s war on Ukraine: Impact on food security and EU response, European Parliament
4. World Food Program (2022) Implications of the Crisis in Ukraine on West Africa, World Food Program