Berkeley, Calif. — This week, Breakthrough Institute Food & Agriculture Analyst Alex Smith published a new essay in Foreign Policy about the global repercussions of conflict in Ukraine. Known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” the country’s agricultural exports are crucial to feeding populations throughout Asia and Africa. Cited in the Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola column today, he noted “threats to Ukraine’s wheat exports pose the greatest risk to global food security.”
Alex Smith is available for comment and/or interview
Alex Smith writes, “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.”
He continues, “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.”
“Relying on bread and other grain products for 35 percent of the population’s caloric intake, Lebanon is critically dependent on Ukrainian wheat.”
The impacts on developing countries would be hard-felt: “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.”
“Should a possible attack on Ukraine turn into a Russian land grab from where Russian-supported separatists have already established their so-called republics, it could mean sharp declines in wheat production and a precipitous fall in wheat exports as farmers flee the fighting, infrastructure and equipment are destroyed, and the region’s economy is paralyzed. Whoever controls the land will ultimately extract its riches, but if conditions in the Russian-controlled eastern parts of Ukraine are any guide, instability and paralysis may lie over the region and seriously impact production far beyond the initial invasion.”
This could also have real impacts on food prices globally. Combined with global food price increases stemming from supply chain issues, high fertilizer and other input costs, and a myriad of other reasons, a Russia-Ukraine conflict could be felt in supermarket aisles in the US, EU and around the world.