Effects of the Ukrainian conflict on food security are already being felt in the Middle East and Nor
JOANNE LEVITAN, IFAD
ROME: As war continues to rage in Ukraine, the effects of rising food prices and shortages of staple crops are already noticeable in the Middle East and North Africa and are spreading to the world’s most vulnerable countries, including those in the Horn of Africa, particularly exposing the poorest people. The warning from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations agency, comes amid growing concerns expressed by the international community about the effects of the conflict on hunger and poverty in the world. “I am deeply concerned the violent conflict in Ukraine, which is already a disaster for the parties directly concerned, will also be a tragedy for the poorest people in rural areas, as they cannot absorb the price increases for basic food and agricultural inputs [which] will result from disruptions in international trade,” said IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo. “We are already witnessing a surge in prices, which could lead to an increase in hunger and poverty, with disastrous consequences for global stability.” IFAD’s analysis reveals rising prices for basic food, fuel and fertilizers, as well as other repercussions of the conflict, are already having a disastrous impact on the poorest rural communities. In Somalia, where an estimated 3.8 million people are already severely food insecure, electricity and transport costs have skyrocketed, due to rising fuel prices. This phenomenon particularly affects poor smallholder farmers and pastoralists, whose survival, in a context of erratic rainfall and constant drought, depends on irrigated agriculture powered by small diesel engines. In Egypt, the price of wheat and sunflower oil soared, with the country importing 85% of its wheat and 73% of its sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine. Central Asian countries, depending on remittances from migrants working in Russia, have been hit hard by the devaluation of the Russian ruble. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, more than 31% of the national GDP is remittances, the majority of which come from Russia. This money is essential to ensure rural migrant families have access to food, education and other basic necessities. IFAD experts stress, small-scale producers are already suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, droughts, cyclones and other natural disasters. Their incomes are now at risk of being affected by rising input prices, declining food availability and market disruptions. It is also expected to have catastrophic long-term effects on their nutrition and food security. IFAD works closely with governments, rural communities and other partners, and seeks solutions to strengthen global support to the most affected regions, including through its Mechanism for Refugees, Migrants, Forced Displacement and Rural Stability (FARMS). This helps refugee populations and host communities derive livelihoods from agricultural work. It is also stepping up its interventions to reduce post-harvest losses, improve storage and strengthen local and regional food markets. “IFAD is committed to improving the resilience of the poorest rural producers, who produce one third of the world’s food. We must do everything we can to ensure they have the resources to continue producing and be protected
from further shocks,” says Gilbert F. Houngbo. “In the short term, however, it will be difficult to mitigate the effects of this crisis on a global scale. I join the call of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to end the conflict and restore peace. There is no other way to avoid a global catastrophe.” IFAD’s experience with previous food crises shows, stabilizing local market systems, cash transfers, strengthening remittances, establishing credit and savings groups, training and subsidies for agricultural enterprises, and investments in value chains (infrastructure, support to microfinance institutions and aggregation services to connect farmers to markets) are all part of the process. These are all interventions which build resilience and reduce the impact of shocks. IFAD will draw on this experience and its unique expertise as an international financial institution and rural development agency, owned by the United Nations, to guide its response to the current crisis.