The war in Ukraine adds to rising food prices, famine in Africa

MAGADISHA, Somalia (AP) – Now it costs Ayan Hassan Abdyrakhman twice as much as in just a few months …

MAGADISHA, Somalia (AP) – Now Ayan Hassan Abdyrahman is twice as expensive as just a few months ago to buy wheat flour, which she uses to make breakfast every day for her 11 children in the Somali capital.

Almost all of the wheat sold in Somalia comes from Ukraine and Russia, which have stopped exporting across the Black Sea after Moscow launched a war with its neighbor on February 24. The timing could not be worse: the UN has warned that approximately 13 million people have faced severe famine in the Horn of Africa as a result of the ongoing drought.

Abdyrahman tried to manage by replacing her with tortillas sorghum, another more affordable grain. Inflation, however, means that the price of oil, which she still needs to prepare, has also risen sharply – the jar, which once cost $ 16, is now sold in the markets of Mogadishu for $ 45.

“Today the cost of living is high, so it’s hard for families to afford even flour and oil,” she says.

Haji Abdi Diblave, a businessman who imports wheat flour in Somalia, fears the situation will only get worse: at the moment, there is also a shortage of transport containers to bring food from other places.

“Somalis have nowhere to grow wheat, and we don’t even know how to grow it,” he said. “Our main concern now is what awaits us in the future when we run out of supplies.”

Another 18 million people are facing severe famine in the Sahel, the part of Africa just below the Sahara Desert where farmers have endured the worst agricultural production in more than a decade. The UN World Food Program claims that food shortages could worsen if an unstable season comes in late summer.

“Acute hunger is rising to unprecedented levels, and the global situation is only getting worse. The conflict, the climate crisis, COVID-19 and rising food and fuel costs have created a perfect storm – and now we have a war in Ukraine that is loading disaster upon catastrophe, ”WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned earlier this month.

Even the cost of medical nutrition for malnourished children could rise by 16% in the next six months due to the war in Ukraine and pandemic failures, says UNICEF.

According to the UN, in the period from 2018 to 2020, African countries imported 44% of wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The African Development Bank is already reporting a 45% increase in wheat prices on the continent, making everything from couscous in Mauritania to fried donuts sold in the Congo more expensive for customers.

“Africa has no control over production or logistics chains and is completely dependent on the situation,” said Senegalese President Maki Sal, chairman of the African Union, who said he would travel to Russia and Ukraine to discuss price issues.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week pushed the West to lift sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine’s war in an effort to shift blame from Russia to the West over the growing global food crisis, which has been exacerbated by Ukraine’s inability to supply millions of tons of grain. and other agricultural products during the attack.

Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow was “ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers, subject to the removal of politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West,” the Kremlin said.

Western officials have rejected Russia’s claims. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken noted that food, fertilizers and seeds are not subject to sanctions imposed by the United States and many others against Russia.

In Cameroon, baker Sylvester Ako says he has seen his daily clientele shrink from 300 customers a day to just 100 as bread prices have jumped 40% due to a lack of wheat imports. He has already fired three of his seven employees and worries that he will have to completely close his Yaounde business if something does not change.

“The price of a bag of wheat weighing 50 kilograms (110 pounds) is now sold for $ 60 – about $ 30 – and deliveries are not regular,” Ako said.

Along with the shortage of wheat imports, the African Development Bank also warns of a potential 20% reduction in food production on the continent because farmers have to pay 300% more than imported fertilizers.

The organization says it plans to address these issues through a $ 1.5 billion plan that will provide farmers in Africa with certified seeds, fertilizers and other aid. Reducing dependence on foreign imports is part of the strategy, but these economic transitions are likely to take years, not months.

The President of Senegal says appetites may change faster. He encourages Africans to consume local grains, which were once a staple of their diet.

“We also need to change our eating habits,” Sal said. “We gave up millet and started importing rice from Asia. Now we only know how to eat rice, and produce not enough. We only know how to eat bread. We do not produce wheat. “

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Christa Larsson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press journalists in Europe and Edwin Kindeka Moki in Yaounde, Cameroon; Babacar Dion in Dakar, Senegal; Al-Haji Kudra Malira of Bunia, Congo, and Francis Kokuta in Accra, Ghana, contributed to this report.

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