Blog Post

The Ukraine-Russia Crisis and SSA: New Ebook Provides a Look Back and Forward

Africa south of the Sahara has been, and will continue to be, particularly hard hit by the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on global food and fuel prices, according to a new ebook from IFPRI. The book, based on IFPRI’s Ukraine blog and research brief series, provides a regional and country-level overview of the impacts of the ongoing crisis on SSA. It also concludes with policy recommendations and lessons learned to help the region, and the world, better respond to future food system shocks.

For many countries in SSA, wheat is a staple food. For example, in Sudan, wheat is the second most important calorie source after sorghum, but the country imports as much as 85 percent of its wheat. This means that any disruption in supplies from major wheat-exporting countries like Russia and Ukraine will have strong negative consequences for domestic consumers, particularly poor and vulnerable populations.  

Even for countries that do not trade directly with Russia or Ukraine, rising global food prices can have serious indirect effects on domestic consumers. For example, poor populations in Malawi spend around 36 percent of their total food expenditures on maize, much of which is imported. Between the end of 2019 and March 2022, global cereal prices (including maize) rose by 48 percent. As a result, poor Malawian consumers faced increased inability to afford a staple food product, threatening to drive large swathes of the population into food insecurity. Throughout West Africa, between January 2020 and March 2022, the price of palm oil, wheat, sugar, and chicken – all imported food products – rose significantly. Analysis shows that in Sudan, rising global wheat prices led to a 24 percent decline in imports and a 15 percent decline in total wheat consumption between August 2021 and February 2022.

Increased global fertilizer prices stemming from the Ukraine crisis has also had serious detrimental impacts on SSA. Between the end of 2019 and March 2022, global fertilizer prices rose by 35 percent. As a result, many smallholder farmers in SSA were no longer able to afford these key agricultural inputs; those who could still afford fertilizer often chose not to in order to protect their profits. Reduced fertilizer use can lower agricultural production and thus cut down on available domestic food supplies.

The ebook also highlights, however, that impacts of the Ukraine crisis within SSA are heterogeneous across countries and populations. For some countries, such as Nigeria, higher global fertilizer prices present an opportunity for domestic producers to take advantage of lucrative global markets. Nigeria is Africa’s leading fertilizer producer and thus has the potential to step into the void created on international markets by the ongoing conflict and subsequent sanctions on Russian fertilizers. In addition to benefiting producing countries, if proper efforts are taken to enhance intra-regional trade, such domestic continental production of key agricultural inputs could lessen the impact of rising global prices for the rest of SSA.

To mitigate the negative impacts of the ongoing global food price crisis posed by the war in Ukraine and to take advantage of opportunities when they occur, the ebook recommends ramping up social safety net programs, such as food and cash transfers, as well as encouraging producers to continue to use fertilizer in order to protect domestic production. In the longer term, countries in the region should increase their investment in agricultural research and development and in key transportation, storage, and communication infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. While these short- and long-term investments will put pressure on governments’ already limited budgets and foreign reserves, they are needed to help the region increase sustainable food production and enhance its resilience to future shocks.

IFPRI’s analysis continues to draw heavily on the suite of tools and data maintained through the Food Security Portal and developed through funding from FCDO/USAID. These include the FSP’s Excessive Food Price Variability Early Warning System, the Fertilizer Dashboard, and the Food and Fertilizer Export Restriction Tracker. In addition, many of the blog posts and briefs included in the new ebook have been cross-posted on the FSP’s own Ukraine blog series and tool repository.