Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing a global food crisis

OPINION: Russia and Ukraine play a significant role in the world's food supply—now halted by war and sanctions. The impact could have a devastating effect on the lives of Black and brown people around the globe. 

An Ethiopian woman scoops up portions of wheat to be allocated to waiting families after it was distributed by the Relief Society of Tigray in the town of Agula, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 8, 2021. The war in Ukraine has raised the specter of food shortages and political instability in countries that rely on affordable grain imports like Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine might seem like a world away for some people—out of sight, out of mind and not their problem. However, in an intermeshed and interconnected world, we should take note and be very concerned. The situation in Ukraine is affecting the world’s food supply, with the threat of a grain shortage that could cripple countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that depend on Russia and Ukraine for their wheat.

Ukraine and Russia are the breadbasket of Europe and the world, accounting for 12 percent of all global food exports, nearly 30 percent of global wheat exports, 20 percent of corn, and over 80 percent of sunflower oil. Wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine will drop by an estimated 7 million metric tons this year.

Ukraine has banned exports of barley, rye, oats and millet, and its farmers have left the fields to take up arms, while the West has imposed an international ban on Russian products. To make matters even worse, the attack on Ukraine also threatens the production of fertilizer, as Russia manufactures key ingredients for fertilizer, and prices were already on the rise because of increasing oil prices.

Many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia—some already facing hunger, economic instability and a humanitarian crisis—rely on Russia and Ukraine for their food needs. The invasion of Ukraine will result in rising food prices and a food shortage in these countries, aggravating a global hunger crisis that was severe even before the Russian attack. And food insecurity can contribute to more social unrest in a given nation, impacting conflicts and the escalation of violence.

The African countries of Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan receive nearly all their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The Tigray crisis in Ethiopia already created famine, and political instability and climate change in Somalia has displaced 3 million people.


Yemen imports most of its food and relies on Ukraine for half of its wheat, while Lebanon imports 60 percent of its wheat from Ukraine and has a mere one-month reserve. Egypt depends on Russia for 85 percent of its wheat and 73 percent of its sunflower oil. Other countries such as Bangladesh, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Tunisia, and Turkey heavily depend on wheat exports from the two Eastern European nations.

According to the U.N. World Food Programme, the number of people on the brink of famine has increased from 27 million in 2019 to 44 million today. David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme, said that before the invasion, the number of people facing severe hunger worldwide soared from 80 million to 276 million in four years due to the “perfect storm” of conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While you’re focused on Ukraine, please don’t neglect the Sahel, please don’t neglect Syria and Jordan, Lebanon. If you do, the consequences will be catastrophic,” said Michael Fakhri, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food. “Without food security, you’re not going to have peace. It’s just that simple.” Fakhri urged countries to work together to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable people such as children, refugees, older people and those with disabilities, and not weaponize food to drive people into hunger. “Is it fair for us to take food from children in Ethiopia to give to the children in Ukraine? No,” he added.

Some in the Black community will say this is a white folks’ war, a case of white-on-white crime. From the bombings of Black Wall Street, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and MOVE to the more recent bombings of Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq and others, we know that when violence is unleashed on more melanated nations and communities, the world hardly pays attention. This is true.

In this century, at least, the world is not used to a European nation being attacked like an African, Latin American or Arab country, which is what Russia is doing to Ukraine today. Europe has not experienced the sight of millions of European refugees in decades. Although these crimes against humanity are taking place in Europe, that does not mean the atrocities will not reverberate around the world and impact the lives of Black and brown people around the globe. 

People are hurting and dying over this war in Ukraine. And the violence is traveling to Africa and elsewhere, and many people will suffer there as well. Russia’s war is devastating to the people of Ukraine—with the hunger and displacement it has caused—but this will almost certainly lead to famine-ravaged refugees in Africa if the world community does not intervene. 

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is 

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