The Ukraine war may seem far away for many Africans, but its effect on supplies of food and fertiliser could lead to soaring prices.
For most people in Africa, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a faraway problem that has little bearing on their daily lives. Beyond the Ukraine-based African students who reported discrimination as they sought to flee the conflict in its early days, very few Africans have had first-hand experience of the war.
There seems to be a bifurcation of interest in the conflict. Commentators in the media, academia and think tanks have been discussing the war and its effects in Africa, especially as regards food security on the continent. But “ordinary” people are just getting on with their own activities.
The war in Ukraine is, however, having major downstream economic effects in Africa. Even before Russia’s war in Ukraine began in February, many parts of West Africa and the Maghreb were experiencing elevated levels of food inflation. Average food price in the last quarter of 2021 across West Africa was 39% higher than over the same period in the last five years.
Covid-19 has jammed up supply chains, caused an increase in freight costs and worsened logistics planning, a particular worry for African countries that import most of their food. Local harvests in West Africa have also been decimated by poor rainfall, the high cost of fertilisers, a lack of government support for the agricultural sector and many other factors.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a sharp rise in the cost of wheat, a staple across Africa. Egypt is the most exposed country anywhere in the world — it imports 60% of its wheat from abroad, and sources 80% of those imports from Russia and Ukraine.
The price of palm oil, a fixture in many African dishes from Nigeria to Kenya, has also gone up. Neither Russia nor Ukraine produce the commodity but the interconnected nature of global markets has had a knock-on effect. Indonesia exports much of the stuff and has introduced export bans to keep prices stable at home.