Far from the destruction wrought by the Russian army on Ukrainian soil, another disaster is unfolding in Africa. In the west of the continent, 38.3 million people will need immediate food and nutrition assistance for the summer, the Food Crisis Prevention Network warned.
The standstill in the Black Sea food production basin has seen the price of wheat rise by 30% as of March 15, 2022. It had already doubled in 2021. Of the 55 countries in Africa, 33 import 90% or more of their wheat consumption. In the Maghreb, the situation is critical, especially during Ramadan: Egypt imports more than 60% of its wheat consumption, Algeria 75%, Tunisia 62%, and Morocco 38%.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, "some 283 million people were already suffering from hunger" in Africa, said Akinwumi Adesina, the head of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Indeed, the global food crisis has been palpable in Africa since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2013-2014, as Russia and Ukraine are respectively the first and fourth largest wheat exporters in the world. With the multiplier effect of repeated droughts and the Covid-19 crisis, instability is even more of a threat.
This can already be seen in the prices that have skyrocketed at the market stands since March 2022. In 2021, 8,000 protests broke out across the continent in response to rising consumer prices. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has revised its global food price monitoring index, marking the worst rate since its inception in the 1990s.
West Africa on the front lines
In the Sahel zone and West Africa, already hit by a drop in crop yields and internal conflict, the issue of additional emergency aid is already being raised. "We have gone from 10.7 million people threatened by food insecurity in 2019 to 40.7 million in 2022," said Issoufou Baoua, an expert food security analyst with the Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).
Areas that have been particularly affected include the area around Lake Chad (Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon) and the Tri-border area at the crossroads of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
But the worst consequences of the conflict in Ukraine for Africa may be yet to come. The United Nations warned that continued warfare would prevent future harvests in the Ukraine and even in Russia, which could lead to further wheat price rises. Exacerbated by the decline in fertilizer imports, crops could be threatened for several years to come. With imports from Russia and Belarus of ingredients like potash constituting some 90% of supply in West Africa, prices have already doubled over the last twelve months.
In Mauritania, which has already been affected by a collapse in biomass production in recent years, the consequences could be long-lasting, and an area of AFD intervention. "High fertilizer prices may lead to low agricultural output in 2022. Ensuring food supply for the year 2023 still appears to be very difficult,” said Matthieu Le Grix, Head of Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity at AFD. “In this respect, the replenishment of national and regional public reserves can now be a key area of action for AFD Group."
See also: AFD Group's efforts in the Sahel
Faced with these multiple emergencies, some governments are withdrawing and relying on self-sufficiency. Algeria and Ghana for example, have decided to stop exporting food to their neighbors. "We must now consider the notion of food sovereignty on a regional scale, with solidarity between countries," said Matthieu Le Grix.
To address the emergency, AFD Group will continue its support for food storage systems, drawing inspiration from the success of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in this area.
"We need to adjust our financial instruments to be more flexible in response to emergencies, in addition to humanitarian instruments while remaining true to our mission,” said Le Grix. “Everything must be done to help vulnerable countries move towards food self-sufficiency, i.e. to support production and reduce commodity imports.”
To deploy this added flexibility across the continent where it is most involved, AFD Group will use proven tools like the Minka Peace and Resilience Fund. Created in 2017, this fund is dedicated to conflict containment and prevention. For example, it covers 60% of grant funding in the Sahel zone and allows us to provide assistance in the field in fragile and unstable situations, whether caused by crises and conflicts at home, or further afield.