The Platform

Raphael Rychetsky

The war in Ukraine continues to play havoc with global food supplies.

The historical tapestry of Russia and Ukraine is one of convoluted threads, with a lineage of conflicts stretching from the medieval state of Kievan Rus’, through the turbulence of Mongol domination, to the partitions of Poland. These epochs have been characterized by persistent discord. The modern chapter, marked by Russia’s contentious annexation of Crimea—a move met with international condemnation—has been a prelude to the current and grave chapter of Russian military aggression in Ukraine.

This war, spurred by a confluence of geopolitical, economic, and honor-related incentives for Russia, has catalyzed a profound and far-reaching impact on global food security. Following closely on the heels of a global pandemic, this moment in history finds the world grappling with economic fragility and the inflation of food and commodity prices—an already precarious state now exacerbated by the conflict, leading to escalated prices and tensions worldwide.

This situation resonates with the analytical framework of the Copenhagen School, which advocates for a broadened security perspective encompassing economic, environmental, and societal threats. The war’s effects—evident in the decimation of Ukrainian agricultural lands, the displacement of farmers, and the seizure of pivotal Black Sea trade routes—have precipitated a dire 37% increase in global food prices. Within a year, the cost of a standard food basket has inflated by 55%, with the price of wheat experiencing a 58% hike.

Our interconnected global landscape ensures that a disturbance in one region can send shockwaves across the planet. Russia and Ukraine, with their storied roles as the breadbaskets of the world, are significant exporters of fertilizers, energy, and agricultural commodities. Interruptions to their output ripple through international markets, highlighting the vulnerabilities of states that rely on these crucial imports. The conflict has destabilized not only the domestic markets within Ukraine but also those entangled with Russian and Ukrainian trade networks, revealing the intricate web of global interdependence.

In an already faltering post-pandemic economy, the war has ushered in a fresh era of global anxiety. Trade has been disrupted, exports have ceased, and food production has been suspended. This tumult is resulting in a rise in child malnutrition and, according to projections, a surge of 47 million people into acute hunger compared to pre-war conditions. A mere single-point increase in food price indices could push an estimated 10 million more people into the abyss of poverty.

The agricultural devastation wrought by Russia in Ukraine has been catastrophic. The Ukrainian Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food has reported the loss of approximately 84,200 pieces of agricultural machinery—a staggering figure. This wholesale destruction obliterates prospects for future agricultural activity, precipitating economic decline in Ukraine and jeopardizing the food security of states dependent on its exports. Reports detail that almost 9.4 million tons of agricultural goods have been significantly damaged or appropriated by the aggressor, impacting not only Ukraine but also the myriad states that rely on these exports.

The repercussions for Ukraine’s economy are severe, with the United Nations Food Programme reporting an urgent need for humanitarian assistance for an estimated 18 million individuals. The war has displaced a staggering 14 million people, severing their access to essential food supplies. The nation’s once robust agricultural sector, which contributed about 41% to the economy, has been drastically reduced, impacting both domestic stability and international markets that depended on Ukrainian agricultural exports. The Black Sea, once a bustling avenue for the export of around 22 million tons of grain, now lies dormant, further straining the trade and economy.

Globally, the effect of the conflict is undeniable. Russia and Ukraine’s integral roles in the agricultural and wheat trade, responsible for significant percentages of global sunflower oil and maize trade, have been compromised. The sanctions levied against Russia and the annihilation of Ukrainian farmland have thrown these vital trades into turmoil. The World Food Programme emphasizes the crisis’s breadth, with 349 million people in 79 countries now facing acute food insecurity, with the most severe impacts felt in less developed nations. These areas, already vulnerable, now confront a dire predicament as the International Monetary Fund warns of “an unprecedented shock to the global food system,” with the most disadvantaged populations facing the harshest consequences.

As the Russia-Ukraine war continues, its repercussions ripple across the globe, sharply inflating the cost of essential nutrition, with the gravest impact felt in East Africa. The war has forced a pivot from nutrient-rich foods to more affordable staples, yet, with supply chains in disarray, even these are becoming cost-prohibitive, propelling populations toward the brink of hunger. The World Food Program illuminates this stark reality, noting a staggering 20 to 36 percent surge in food costs across the Asia Pacific region in a mere two-year span.

Egypt, previously the world’s foremost wheat importer predominantly from the Black Sea region, is now reeling from the conflict’s fallout. Wheat—a cornerstone of the Egyptian diet—is now a scarce resource, and the consequences are acute. Research from the International Food Policy Research Institute paints a distressing picture: domestic food prices have soared by 30 percent, leading to drastic dietary changes. Households are forgoing nutrition—85 percent consuming less meat, 75 percent cutting back on eggs—as these items become luxury goods amidst spiraling costs.

The conflict’s reach extends far beyond the borders of the combatant nations. Russia and Ukraine were pivotal in the global agricultural market, underpinning food security in regions such as Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. The devastation of Ukrainian farmlands, the displacement of its people, and Western sanctions on Russia have all conspired to hinder exports. The domino effect is price hyperinflation, exacerbating food insecurity in already vulnerable areas. Where food is available, it is often at prices that soar out of reach for the average citizen, resulting in a grim retreat from dairy, nutrition, and meats.

This war has thrust nations into a growing hunger crisis. If the international community fails to forge a solution, the situation will only deteriorate, with the shadow of food scarcity lengthening. Moreover, those directly suffering from the war’s consequences—Ukrainians and affected populations elsewhere—need substantial humanitarian aid to navigate this complex challenge that touches every corner of the world. The economic impact is vast: agricultural goods, natural gas, fertilizers, and fuel—all witness skyrocketing prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a stark reminder of our interconnectedness and the far-reaching impact of conflict on global food security.

Zoya Baig is currently an undergraduate student.