You are currently viewing Cereal calamity: The geopolitics of wheat

“Hunger cannot be a weapon,”​ Martin Frick, programme director of World Food Programme (WFP) in Germany, told the media. However, there’s no denying it is playing a major part in modern warfare.

Putin’s invasion has brought the export of grain from Russia and Ukraine to a halt – spiking the wheat price to its highest level since the food crisis of 2008. In March, the price soared by 41%, the highest weekly price increase in over 60 years.

Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s top 10 wheat producers and among the five biggest wheat exporters, together representing 27% of the global trade in wheat.

Before the war, 36 countries depended on the pair for their wheat imports, including some of the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished nations. In fact, Ukraine’s cheap wheat is a key component of global food aid, and right now, “an urgent need for Ukrainian resources,” ​said Fick.

The ravaged country has been forced to close seaways and ports, throwing logistics into disarray and blocking millions of tons of cereals from getting to starving civilians.

According to the WFP in Germany, it has provided food aid for about 2.5 million Ukrainians since the outbreak of the war.

However, now “close to 4.5 million tonnes of cereals are blocked in Ukrainian ports and on ships,”​ said Frick, emphasising the urgency to have access to populations and ports to be able to relaunch the export of food.

The situation presents a double challenge – to get food to people trapped in Ukraine, but also to avoid a global food crisis. There are more than 800 million people going to bed hungry every night, so all this nourishment going to waste is criminal. There’s also the longer term challenge. The continued fighting has obviously hampered this year’s wheat planting in Ukraine, and shortages are likely to spill into the next season and even longer.