Experts: Mideast Nations Dependent on Ukraine and Russia for Wheat May Face Crisis

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Countries across the Middle East and North Africa that rely heavily upon Ukraine and Russia for wheat imports may face a food crisis in the near future if Kyiv and Moscow remain at war, regional experts told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

Ukraine and Russia account for over 30 percent of the world’s wheat trade. Russia is the world’s top wheat exporter and third-largest producer of the cereal crop, while Ukraine is among the top five exporters of wheat globally. The outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine on February 24 threatens to disrupt crucial wheat exports from these two neighbors to several nations that have grown heavily dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat in recent years.  These countries include Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey.

“[A] protracted war in Ukraine can affect the harvest in that country, and therefore global supplies,” Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a Middle Eastern studies lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, told Al Jazeera on March 1.

“Egypt relies on Russia and Ukraine for 85 percent of its wheat imports, Tunisia relies on Ukraine for between 50 and 60 percent of its wheat imports,” Monica Marks, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at New York University Abu Dhabi, told the Qatari news outlet on Tuesday.

“Though Turkey domestically produces about half of the wheat it consumes, it has become increasingly reliant on imports, 85 percent of which come from Russia and Ukraine,” according to Al Jazeera.

Statistics published by Investment Monitor on March 2 detailed Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports to Egypt, Yemen, and Lebanon over the past few years.

Egypt imported a total of $3.02 billion worth of wheat in 2019, $1.44 billion of which came from Russia. Ukraine accounted for  $773.4 million of Egyptian wheat imports for the same year.

Yemen imported a total of $549.89 million worth of wheat in 2019. Russia accounted for $145.81 million of this trade, while Ukraine contributed $79.8 million.

Lebanon’s total wheat imports for 2020 amounted to $148.49 million, of which $119.1 million worth came from Ukraine and $22.93 million arrived from Russia.

“Half of Israel’s wheat imports originate in Russia, while another 30% come from Ukraine,” Al-Monitor observed March 2.

Israel’s government expressed concern over the Russia-Ukraine war’s possible impact on the Israeli economy February 27.

“There may be price increases due to supply difficulties resulting from the fighting in Ukraine,” Israeli Economy Ministry director-general Ron Malka told reporters February 27.

The U.S. government has led an international effort to punish Moscow with crippling financial sanctions since February 24 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While these sanctions have not directly targeted Russian wheat exports so far, they have indirectly caused a significant disturbance to the international wheat market.

“Wheat prices hit $10.59 a bushel, the highest since March 2008,” Reuters reported on March 2.

“Global buyers of grains have been increasingly turning to the U.S., Europe or South America to secure supplies in the immediate term, given the ongoing conflict,” the Dutch financial services corporation ING wrote in an internal note reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.

“Moreover, demand for stockpiling has also increased due to current uncertainty,” the note read.


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