LONDON, (The Southern African Times) – The war in Ukraine threatens to lead to food riots, political upheaval and turn back the clock in years of progress in Africa, the continent’s top economist told The Telegraph.
“This war has to come to an end. It’s not just a war in Ukraine. It’s a war that has global ramifications,” Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, told The Telegraph.
“The price of wheat has gone up by 62 per cent [since the beginning of the war]. The price of maize has gone up by 36 per cent. The price of soya beans by 29 per cent. Now the price of fertilisers, which are very, very critical for food productions, has gone up by 300 per cent – that’s three times.”
“And when you couple that with energy prices that are also rising in many African countries, you can see that this is driving inflation. If urgent action is not taken, it could lead to a food crisis in Africa.”
Dr Adesina is one of the most respected and recognisable public figures on the continent.
For the last seven years, the Nigerian economist has led the African Development Bank, dedicated to fighting poverty and improving living conditions not through short term aid donations but through public and private investment programs.
Mykhailo Golovatyuk in a grain storage facility on a farm in Odesa, Ukraine CREDIT: Simon Townsley/The Telegraph
Speaking to The Telegraph in an exclusive interview, he laid out the challenge the war in Ukraine posed to Africa, which is deeply reliant on cereals imports from the two countries(link is external).
Dr Adesina said that Covid-19 lockdowns across the continent and a climate change-induced drought across eastern Africa had already severely damaged food production and that the rapidly rising food prices were throwing regional governments a curveball.
Ukraine and Russia export about 25 per cent of the world’s wheat, while together, both countries make up about 80 per cent of the world’s sunflower oil trade.
Africa relies heavily on both countries for food imports – countries like Benin, Somalia, Tanzania, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt get more than 50 per cent of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the World Food Program, which helps feed tens of millions of people in crises across Africa, buys more than half of the wheat from Ukraine.
“East Africa is particularly of concern to us. Russia and Ukraine supply most of the grains to this region. In fact, East Africa relies on these two countries for 90 per cent of their wheat.”
“The price of food accounts for about 65 per cent of the consumer price index. So you can imagine what [rapidly rising food prices] is going to do for low-income earners in Africa. It’s going to worsen poverty. It’s going to worsen food insecurity.”
His comments came after the United Nations warned on Friday that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea risked triggering famines worldwide(link is external).
“For the last three years, global rates of hunger and famine have been on the rise. With the Russian invasion, we are now facing the risk of imminent famine and starvation in more places around the world,” said Michael Fakhri, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food.
Dr Adesina said that rising food and energy prices could have serious political repercussions for many African countries. “That keeps me very worried…We may have some food riots because people can’t survive like that.”
“We saw what happened in Tunisia. The Arab Spring came just because of that. If we don’t bring the prices down very quickly, it creates a risk of fragility in already very tense political situations in many African countries.”
He added that the increased price of liquified gas meant that more Africans were returning to cooking with charcoal which is far more polluting and extremely damaging for the health.
East Africa has been hit by climate change-related droughts CREDIT: Brian Inganga /AP
However, the World Food Prize winner argued that Africa was more than capable of looking out for itself but that it needed to invest massively in boosting agricultural production.
He pointed to one of the Bank’s flagship programs that rapidly boosted food supplies in seven African countries.
According to Dr Adesina, simple methods like delivering heat-tolerant wheat varieties to farmers boosted wheat production per hectare by about 75 per cent in Sudan and 260 per cent in Ethiopia in just two years in the target areas.
According to African Development Bank statistics, this allowed Ethiopia to reduce its wheat imports by more than 50 per cent.
“We have what it takes. We need financing to feed Africa and advert a food crisis,” says Dr Adesina. “When Covid-19 struck, we were not ready. But for this, we are ready.”