War and Drought Push Wheat Prices up by 80% in North Africa and Middle East
A Ukrainian wheat field

Food price hikes, hunger and instability are predicted globally – but particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, which are already in the midst of serious droughts and heavily dependent on Russia and Ukraine for wheat.

Bread is the staple food in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, and the price of wheat had already increased by 70-80% over the past year – even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – according to the International Monetary Fund.

Around 10 million tonnes of wheat, 10 million tonnes of corn, as well as sunflower oil and barley have been unable to leave the Black Sea area (Ukraine and Russia), according to Gro Intelligence..

Meanwhile, wheat crops in the US and Canada have also been affected by drought with an estimated 20 million tonnes lost, and available wheat stocks are the tightest since 2007/8, according to Gro Intelligence.

Food production is down 21%

The World Food Programme (WFP) warned this week of “destabilization, migration and starvation” if climate change is not addressed.

“If emissions are not reduced, the risk of food supply shocks will greatly increase with harvests failing simultaneously in multiple major food-producing countries, leading to shortages and price spikes. Food productivity growth is already down 21% because of global heating,” said the WFP in a statement on Monday.

The WFP added that 2021 was the third-costliest year on record for climate-related disasters, totalling $329 billion in economic losses, with “more frequent and intense droughts, floods and storms” which had led to “widespread food insecurity, crippling agricultural production, devastating livelihoods and forcing people from their homes”.

Fragile states face political instability

Morocco, a major wheat-producing area in North Africa, is likely to have to import wheat for domestic use because of severe drought, while similar conditions are being experienced by wheat-growing countries in the Middle East.

Australian and Indian imports might ease the stresses faced by the region, but are unlikely to be able to meet all the demands of North Africa and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the fragile economies of Yemen, Tunisia and Lebanon – which are heavily dependent on wheat from Ukraine – are already facing food shortages in tense political environments that could lead to instability, according to reports.

Climate action failure

Climate action failure was ranked as the most severe risk in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022, with the most severe threat in both the medium term (2-5 years) and long term (5-10 years).

The WFP has appealed for more climate finance to be directed to fragile states to limit their  climate-related risks, and for urgent funds to be channelled to “integrated adaptation programmes at scale”, rather than simply confined to humanitarian aid to address crises.

“Climate action requires integrated approaches, which combine nature-based solutions with access to climate and early warning information and financial safety nets,” said WFP.

It advocates for early warning systems to anticipate climate crises and “trigger pre-positioned financing for preventative action”, the restoration of ecosystems so that they can act as  “natural shields against climate impacts”, and safety nets and insurance against climate extremes to protect those most vulnerable.

Image Credits: Polna Rytova/ Unsplash.

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