Ukraine war wheat shortages could cause civil unrest in Africa, warns bank head

The sudden shortage of wheat, maize and other grains imported from Russia and Ukraine could spark civil unrest in Africa as food supply chains are tested again on the heels of a global pandemic, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) has said.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Dr Akinwumi Adesina said there is a yawning gap between the production of cereal crops and consumption of growing populations on the continent, which puts the region at risk of food insecurity and necessitates a major expansion of agricultural investments and adoption of new technologies.

“If we do not intervene now and support Africa to produce the food, we could easily be looking at a looming food crisis and a potential for civil unrest. Because when people can’t buy food, then you’re going to have a lot of civil unrest,” he said.

The International Grains Council said that Russia and Ukraine, at war since February 24, account for almost a quarter of the world’s wheat exports and one fifth of the world’s barley exports. Since the start of February, prices of grains have jumped from anywhere between 22 per cent to 37 per cent.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says wheat alone accounts for an estimated 20 per cent of human calorie consumption, mostly in poor nations where bread is a fixture of the daily diet.

“Now, let me explain that Russia’s exports to Africa are about $4 billion a year, 90 per cent of that is actually wheat. If you take the case of Ukraine, their exports are roughly $4.5bn a year,” Dr Akinwumi Adesina told The National on the sidelines of the World Government Summit held in Dubai on March 28-30, 2022. “Most of that is wheat and maize. Ukraine alone accounts for 31 per cent of the maize imports for the African countries. So, you can see that the effect on Africa is going to be very, very serious. Many countries like Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya will have a lot of problems,” he added.

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