January 2022

  • 1 - 31 January 2022

Arab Food Security and the Repercussions of the Ukrainian War?


Despite the geographical distance of Ukraine from the Arab world, the impact of the war in this European country will be harsh on several Arab countries, especially if this war extends for a long period. Several Arab countries import wheat, either from Russia, the first global exporter of this vital material, or from Ukraine, which ranks fourth in the world. And the dispute between the two countries automatically leads to the cessation of commercial traffic with abroad. Firstly, because of the war on Ukrainian territory, and secondly, because of the imposition of sanctions on Russian exports.

There is no doubt that this war, especially if it is prolonged, will complicate the task of many families in Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia and perhaps other Arab countries in providing loaves of bread on the dining table. The Middle East Research Institute has warned that if the war disrupts wheat supplies to the Arab world, which depends heavily on imports for its food, the crisis could lead to new demonstrations and instability in several countries.

Yemen is the first Arab country to be threatened by a worsening of its nutritional situation. In this context, the Executive Director of the World Food Program in Yemen, David Beasley, explains the difficulty of the current situation: "We thought we had reached the bottom, but no, it's worse (...) We get half of our grain demand from Russia and Ukraine, this war will have a tragic effect."

As for Lebanon, which has been mired in a stifling economic crisis for years, the living life of its citizens may worsen even more. Similar to Yemen and Lebanon, the Maghreb countries may also face a food crisis due to the war in Ukraine. It seems that the region's governments are aware of the danger threatening them, and are trying to race against time to take proactive steps to protect them from social shocks. Morocco, for example, where prices were inflamed before the outbreak of the Ukrainian war, increased flour subsidies to 350 million euros, and suspended customs duties on wheat imports.

But Tunisia could not do that. The debt is increasing as foreign exchange reserves melt. Tunisia imports 60% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and has enough stocks until June, as indicated by the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture. In Algeria, the second consumer of wheat in Africa and the fifth importer of grain in the world, the stock is sufficient for at least six months. As for Egypt, it is the largest importer of wheat in the world and the second largest importer from Russia, and it bought 3.5 million tons of wheat until mid-January. Even after Cairo, in recent years, began buying wheat from other suppliers, especially Romania, in 2021 it imported 50 percent of its wheat from Russia and 30 percent from Ukraine. The government announced that it has a strategic stockpile sufficient for a period of approximately nine months.

Many Arab countries choose to import Russian and Ukrainian wheat due to its “low price”, but this price will rise a lot if you go to the United States or Canada and also Latin American countries to buy it because of the distance, especially since the price of oil is high, which is reflected in the cost of transporting goods between countries. There is no other solution for the governments of the affected Arab countries, except to find alternatives to Ukraine and Russia. Negotiations with other countries on new contracts to supply wheat have started, although this situation will affect even the rich countries, where prices will also rise, affecting the financial policies of their governments, which are already faltering since the start of the health crisis.

The Gulf states, in turn, are threatened by a crisis in their food resources imported from the two countries, specifically meat and grains, without having any effect on their food security, since these countries have the ability to absorb a higher cost of imports in the event of an increase due to their financial capabilities.

In any case, high prices are not acceptable to people, even if they are in rich countries, so how can they tolerate it in developing Arab countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon and Yemen, whose citizens strive to provide them and their families with daily bread, as such a situation poses a threat to food security and may lead to social movements rejecting the cost of living.

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