With some of the most fertile land on Earth, Ukraine has been known as Europe’s breadbasket for centuries. Its fast-growing agricultural exports—grains, vegetable oils, and a host of other products—are crucial to feeding populations from Africa to Asia. And it so happens that a substantial part of Ukraine’s most productive agricultural land is located in its eastern regions, exactly those parts most vulnerable to a potential Russian attack. As the war clouds gather along Ukraine’s borders, one concern that has gone relatively unnoticed is the question of what happens to these regions—and to the countries around the world that depend on Ukraine for food—in the case of a Russian attack.
Ukraine is a top exporter of corn, barley, and rye, but it’s the country’s wheat that has the biggest impact on food security around the world. In 2020, Ukraine exported roughly 18 million metric tons of wheat out of a total harvest of 24 million metric tons, making it the world’s fifth-largest exporter. Customers include China and the European Union, but the developing world is where Ukrainian wheat has become an essential import. For example, about half of all wheat consumed in Lebanon in 2020 came from Ukraine, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Relying on bread and other grain products for 35 percent of the population’s caloric intake, Lebanon is critically dependent on Ukrainian wheat.
Of the 14 countries that rely on Ukrainian imports for more than 10 percent of their wheat consumption, a significant number already face food insecurity from ongoing political instability or outright violence. For example, Yemen and Libya import 22 percent and 43 percent, respectively, of their total wheat consumption from Ukraine. Egypt, the largest consumer of Ukrainian wheat, imported more than 3 million metric tons in 2020—about 14 percent of its total wheat. Ukraine also supplied 28 percent of Malaysian, 28 percent of Indonesian, and 21 percent of Bangladeshi wheat consumption in 2020, according to FAO data.
Unfortunately, a large part of the country’s wheat production comes from the historical breadbasket of eastern Ukraine which is already partially occupied by Russian and Russian-supported forces…
Read the full piece on Foreign Policy.