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Ukraine crisis: How and why it could cause hunger crises globally to worsen

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The quick read:

The crisis in Ukraine has caused food prices to skyrocket globally in the last few weeks with some forecasts estimating up to a 20 percent increase. This is adding pressure to the already devastating hunger crises across the world and causing fears of food shortages.

Over 161 million people across 42 countries are already suffering from acute hunger. More than half a million people are experiencing famine-like conditions in parts of East Africa and the Middle East, and 10.5 million people are facing high levels of hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Ukraine and Russia are important players on the global food export market. Russia is the top wheat exporter with a share of almost 16 percent of the global market, while Ukraine is the third largest exporter of wheat at almost 10 percent of the global market. Importantly, for a number of countries with high levels of hunger Ukraine and Russia have an outsized impact, as they import a significant share of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia. For example, the hunger hotspot of Eritrea imports all its wheat supply from those two countries alone.

The most important problem, however, is affordable access to food, not its availability. People in low-income countries cannot afford the prices of goods like bread which, in many countries, is made from imported wheat. The reason? Supply chain disruptions and climatedriven disasters, like the drought in South Sudan, coupled with conflict, have driven prices up when wages have been unable to keep pace.

In the short-term, donor governments must bridge the gap between what people can pay and higher prices and deliver much needed aid to people facing severe hunger in the Middle East and Africa who will be even more impacted by the rise in food prices. In the long-term, governments must support the development of sustainable, resilient and local food systems, based on small-scale production and family farming that would form the very foundation of people’s food security. The current crisis underscores the urgency and importance of this.