Rising food prices, a decline in trade: how the war in Ukraine can hit Africa

African economists are sounding the alarm about a looming and likely catastrophic decline in trade between the continent and its warring partners if Russia’s much-denounced invasion of Ukraine is short-lived.

Russia and Ukraine are key players in global agricultural trade, with both countries accounting for a quarter of global wheat exports, including at least 14 percent of corn exports in 2020 and 58 percent of global sunflower oil exports in the same year. , show analysis.
Trade between African countries and former Soviet neighbors, especially Russia, flourished in recent years while Russian exports to the continent are estimated at $14 billion a year, while imports from Africa are about $5 billion a year.

But analysts are concerned that these gains are about to fade away quickly, signaling a serious deterioration in the food situation in Africa if the Russian military operation in Ukraine continues.

“Three months to starvation”

Parts of Africa could be plunged into famine in as little as three months if the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, says Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at South Africa’s Agricultural Business Chamber.

“In the short term, between now and three months, the conflict will affect the food supply primarily in terms of pricing,” Sikhlobo told CNN.

“As net importers of products such as wheat, which affects bread and cereals, sunflower oil and corn, African countries are heavily influenced by some of these supplies coming from Russia and Ukraine. There will be problems if the war goes on for more than three months – because usually countries usually keep stockpiles of supplies for three to five months.”

Sikhlobo explains that the war in Ukraine also comes at an unfortunate time for Africa, given the current experience of the war. severe drought in its eastern subregionwhich has taken a hit on food prices.

“Food prices are already high. If the war drags on, millions of Africans will starve. We already expect millions of people to go hungry in drought-affected areas, so the ongoing conflict will escalate. what,” he said.

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Africa’s largest countries, such as Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Algeria and Kenya, are major importers of Russian agricultural exports, putting them at risk of a further spike in food prices in the event of trade disruptions.

Silobo adds that sanctions against Russia could also complicate exports from Africa.

“Africa exports fruits and vegetables to Russia and Ukraine. Seven percent of South Africa’s citrus fruits go to Russia, 14 percent of South Africa’s apples and pears go to Russia. Egypt and Tunisia also export fruits and vegetables to Russia. countries is that with all the sanctions that are imposed on Russia by the US and European countries, this affects the financial services sector … even if logistics does not suffer immediately, this will disrupt the payment system for all countries exporting to Russia, ” he told CNN.

Development economist Ndumiso Hadebe agrees that “In Africa, there are likely to be disruptions in the supply chains of goods and services that are exported and imported between Russia and Africa,” as Russia hit by a flurry of sanctions critics of his invasion of Ukraine.

Take a side in a conflict

Hadebe tells CNN Africa is mostly muted response in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, a more direct position towards the parties involved in the war may give way if the fighting intensifies.
Only a few governments on the continent have spoken out since the attacks. African Union urging Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“There will be significant pressure in terms of multilateralism, as African countries may be forced to take a stand on the conflict that is taking place between Russia and Ukraine, and this may negatively or positively affect relations between Africa and Russia in the future. “, says Hadebe.

For Russian scientist Irina Filatova, siding with Africa won’t do any good.

“Africa does not benefit from taking sides. I think Africa might try to remain neutral,” said Filatova, who specializes in Russian and African history.

Beyond agriculture, Russia is expanding its influence in insurgent-worried African states by offering alternative military solutions to those offered by its Western counterparts, which are often driven by human rights considerations.

Russia signed 20 military cooperation agreements in Africaincluding transactions with Nigeria as well as Ethiopiatwo of the most populous countries in Africa.
Russian mercenaries constantly fell under accusations human rights violations in the Central African Republic and other parts of Africa, where they have been hired by regional governments to fight local insurgents.

However, Russia denies ties to private military contractors such as the Wagner group, which has been accused of abuse.

Hadebe told CNN that the arms trade is “one of the key features that define the trade relationship between Russia and Africa.”

“Russia is the largest arms exporter, in particular to sub-Saharan Africa.”

Africa accounted for 18 percent of Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020, according to the agency. data Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Filatova said Russia’s prospects for doubling its interests in Africa could be enhanced after the war in Ukraine.

“Russia will be much more interested in maintaining relations with African countries than it has been so far … It has already begun to develop these relations, but in the context of global isolation from the Western world, it will definitely try to maintain relations with Africa. ” she told CNN.