African countries including Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan source more than 40% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine © Photo by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images
African countries including Nigeria, Uganda and Sudan source more than 40% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine © Photo by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

How export bans are putting food supplies in Africa at risk

5 May 2022

Governments need to “balance” export restrictions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the need to ensure Africa does not suffer as a result of rising food prices.

In a blog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the war was deepening a food security crisis in African countries that rely on Russia and Ukraine for a significant proportion of wheat, fertiliser and vegetable oils imports. The war has also affected countries through rises in global food prices.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index, which measures changes in international prices of a basket of food items, increased 12.6% from February to March.

It is now at its highest since the index was created in the 1990s.

Egypt in March imposed a three-month ban on wheat, corn and cooking oil exports, while Indonesia banned exports of palm oil – a commodity widely used by African households.

And news emerged yesterday that India is also considering banning wheat exports due to a heatwave that has seen it fear for its own harvest.

Lena Simet, senior researcher on poverty and inequality at HRW, said: “Rising prices are compounding the plight of millions of people thrown into poverty by the Covid-19 pandemic, requiring urgent action by governments and the international community.”

Even before the war in Ukraine, countries such as Angola, Cameroon, Kenya and Nigeria were facing rising food prices due to extreme weather events and disrupted production efforts and global supply chains.

Russia and Ukraine are among the top five global exporters of barley, sunflowers and maize, and account for about a third of the world’s wheat exports.

Countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan source more than 40% of wheat imports from the two countries.

“Food exporting governments should carefully balance export restrictions to protect the right to food domestically while minimising, to the extent possible, impacts on food supply and prices for other countries,” said the NGO.

It said the WTO estimated that 40% of the increase in global wheat prices during the 2011 food crisis was the result of hoarding.

Shortfalls in key fertiliser ingredients like potash, due to sanctions on Russia, are also causing concern among African countries.

Nigeria purchased emergency supplies of Canadian potash in April after saying it had been unable to import the key fertiliser ingredient from Russia because of western sanctions.

Spot prices for potash were up more than 250% for deliveries to West Africa compared with last year, according to commodities pricing agency Argus Media, dealing a further blow to Nigeria's finances.

“Russia was unable to deliver, so we bought spot from traders in Canada. The Canadian High Commission in Nigeria helped start the conversation with producers,” Uche Orji, head of Nigeria's Sovereign Investment Authority, told Reuters.

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