‘The deal should help us breathe’: Africa welcomes Russia-Ukraine grain deal.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The effects of the war in Ukraine have reverberated across the world, and that is especially the case in Africa where the blockage of grain exports from Ukraine has stoked soaring wheat prices and exacerbated hunger and starvation.
So officials, aid groups and wheat importers across Africa welcomed Friday’s deal to unblock grain exports in Ukraine, where the war has led to grain shortages and rising food prices across the African continent.
“The noose was tightening, so the deal should help us breathe,” said Célestin Tawamba, the chief executive officer of La Pasta, the largest flour and pasta producer in the West African nation of Cameroon.
The U.N.-brokered agreement between Russia and Ukraine is particularly important in 14 African nations that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, depend on the two warring nations for half of their wheat imports. One country, Eritrea, is fully dependent on them.
But the deal will have a limited impact in some other parts of Africa, where nations are battling internal political, economic and social crises that have also contributed to growing hunger and high food prices, said Nazanine Moshiri, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
This is particularly true of countries in East Africa, where the worst drought in four decades has decimated farms and livestock, dried up rivers and wells and led to the death of hundreds of children.
A civil war in Ethiopia, political uncertainty in Sudan, and conflict and terrorism in countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Somalia have prevented governments and humanitarian agencies from getting aid to many people in need.
In Kenya, rising government debt and inflation have helped to drive up food prices, prompting street protests and widespread anger on social media in recent weeks.
With a general election looming on Aug. 9, President Uhuru Kenyatta this week suspended taxes on imported maize and ordered a steep reduction in the retail cost of maize flour, an important staple.
During a visit to Kenya on Friday, Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development, announced $255 million in emergency aid to the country.
Many African countries mostly rely on cereals such as maize, sorghum, millet and rice. But those who do consume wheat have increasingly favored buying wheat from Russia in recent years because it is less costly than grain from other countries, according to Hugo Depoix, the Paris-based manager of Cerealis, a grain trader that sells to a dozen African countries.
Some West African countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon or Ivory Coast are particularly exposed to disruptions of wheat exports from Russia. Governments have frozen the price of baguettes or flour in an effort to contain the soaring wheat prices, which have jumped over the last two years from around $250 per ton in summer 2020 to $530 this spring.
Relief from soaring prices may take time. Mr. Tawamba, of the La Pasta company, estimated that it will be “two to three months at the earliest, by the time cheaper wheat gets to us.”
The deal signed in Istanbul on Friday comes more than a month after the chair of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, traveled to Russia to urge president Vladimir Putin to release the much-needed grain.
The unblocking of the grain exports is welcome news, but experts said it does not address the soaring price of fertilizers and fuel, which are also being driven up by the Ukraine war and have affected food security.
In West Africa, where the planting season started in May and June for most cereals, the scarcity of affordable fertilizer because of the war could lead the region to lose a quarter of its production compared with last year, according to an assessment by the regional political bloc, F.A.O. and the World Food Program.
In Somalia, where almost half of the country’s 16 million people are facing food shortages, fertilizer prices have increased by 75 percent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, according to Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, the chief executive officer of Mercy Corps.
“Today’s global food catastrophe goes far beyond the 20 million tons of grain that have been stuck in Ukraine,” Ms. McKenna said in an emailed statement.
Abdi Latif Dahir reported from Nairobi, Kenya, and Elian Peltier from Dakar, Senegal.