An impending wheat crisis could push millions into starvation
… Ukrainian farmers obviously have more pressing priorities right now than sowing their fields. And in any case, the Russian blockade and conquest of most of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast will prevent exports of wheat to the countries that rely on them most.
Between them, Russia and Ukraine account for a third of the world’s supply of wheat, but in fragile countries across the Middle East and Africa, where wheat bread is the staple food, the dependency on Ukrainian grain is even higher...
Egypt’s more than 100 million people rely on Ukrainian wheat for their staple subsidised bread: the Egyptian government has already warned that it will have to raise prices for the first time in decades, in a grim echo of the price rises that foreshadowed the Arab spring over a decade ago.
Wheat is, of course, famously fungible, so I’m guessing that the global wheat market would be fairly efficient at rerouting wheat from, say, Argentina or Australia to Egypt. But, still, Ukraine comprised 8% of world wheat exports in 2020, so the impact of a shortfall of Ukrainian production on the world price could be bad. Wheat futures have been swinging up and down sharply as traders try to figure out the implications.
Ukraine is mostly a winter wheat producer, so the 2022 crop is already in the ground for harvesting in midsummer, followed by planting next year’s crop in August of this year.
Ukraine contributes an even bigger share of world corn production, and that needs to be planted in April and May. So it’s time to get this stupid war over.
Then there’s access to fertilizer, much of which is produced in sanctioned Russia and Belarus.
The potential consequences of hunger and social unrest, and perhaps accelerated state collapse and mass migration northwards, will be a major concern for European politicians in the coming year unless the war comes to a swift conclusion.
… Complex, fragile international supply chains are nothing new. During his invasion of Greece in 480 BC, the Persian emperor Xerxes I observed from the heights of Abydos on the Hellespont the great convoys of ships carrying grain from what is now southern Ukraine to Athens, to feed a city which could not feed itself. Likewise, Imperial Rome relied on Egypt’s rich supplies of grain to provide the daily dole of bread that kept its population content; it’s strange to think that Rome’s breadbasket cannot now feed itself, and is utterly reliant on Athens’ Black Sea breadbasket to keep its vast population from hunger and revolt.
So, one potential result of Mr. Putin’s War is violent unrest in the Global South, setting off another round of mass migration to the Global North.
Thanks, Vlad, O Great Defender of Europe from Immigration!