OPINION… Food as a weapon: Why should Africa care about the Russia-Ukraine war?
Russia shows that an enormous power with nuclear weapons can use blackmail of food deliveries to countries in need and grab fertile lands to satisfy its interests at the cost of others.
The Potential Threat
In 2023, African unity will be tested by a protracted food crisis and high prices for grain and fertilizers.
Since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022, Russia has been weaponizing food supplies to blackmail the world, including African countries.
To do so, Russia has been sabotaging Ukraine’s agricultural sector and blockading its Black Sea ports, thereby disrupting exports and exacerbating the food crisis, especially in vulnerable regions like Africa.
African nations have been struggling to feed their populations since the 1960s, which has led to relying on stable food imports from countries like Ukraine.
This dependency has become increasingly problematic due to growing instability in the supply chain and unprecedented price shocks caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As a result, Russia’s war against Ukraine has made Africa’s goal to become self-sufficient in food even more desirable but less likely. It means that Africa has taken a step back instead of moving closer to self-sufficiency because of Russia’s actions.
The solution for the continent is solidarity and close cooperation. It means that the largest African economies and strongest states must hide their competition and avoid separate alliances and dependencies on external powers.
Face The Real Risk
Over the last 12 months, Russia demonstrated that food could be used as a weapon of political and economic coercion and a tool for dividing and putting nations against each other.
Even though in 2022, Russia harvested a record amount of wheat (100 million metric tons) and the Russian agricultural companies were exempt from sanctions, the Russian government artificially delayed and postponed the export of grains to keep prices high.
Even after approval of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in June 2022 and its extension in November 2022, Russia is slowing down inspections of the cargo ships, which delays the delivery of Ukrainian grain to destinations, including those in African countries.
Without clear justification, the Kremlin refuses to include more grain terminals, namely the port of Mykolaiv in the South of Ukraine, with an annual output of 4 million tons of grain, in the agreement.
Moreover, Russia committed an outright war crime, harvesting 5.8 million tons of Ukrainian wheat, which it did not plant.
This figure was discovered by analysis of the satellite data from the NASA Harvest program.
Unlike Ukraine, Russia shipped and smuggled stolen wheat, sunflower seeds, and corn only to the governments that not only supported it in the UN but also intervened in the war, providing mercenaries (Libya and Syria), assault drones (Iran), and munition (North Korea). Then, Russia supplied food to the biggest Asian power, China.
Meanwhile, the amount of stolen Ukrainian wheat would cover the annual wheat import of Nigeria, the biggest African country by population.
It appears that the action of the Russian authorities has a direct impact on stability in Africa.
In addition, Russian grain deals show its true geopolitical priorities and real attitudes toward the African nations.
On the other hand, Ukraine has pledged to create a special program, “Grain from Ukraine,” under UN auspices to deliver Ukrainian wheat and corn to African countries in need worth $150 million.
Additionally, Kyiv committed to send as unilateral humanitarian aid 141,000 tons of grain to Sudan, Kenia, and Nigeria.
Besides, in 2022 Ukraine has already sent 194,000 tons of grain, including 46,500 tons of wheat.
Of course, this is a drop in the ocean.
Before the full-scale Russian invasion, UN World Food Program claimed that the Ukrainian fertile black soils gave food to 400 million people worldwide, including Ukraine.
If Russia withdraws troops from Ukraine, it will release up to 25% of Ukrainian fertile lands and relieve all grain ports in the Black Sea and Crimea.
Then, Ukraine will use this opportunity to increase production and help the African nations to cover their needs in the next decade before they achieve self-sufficiency.
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It must be remembered that Ukraine will do this not only for economic or political benefit but also because of historical memory. In 1932-33, around 4 million Ukrainian peasants died in an artificial famine organized by the Russian Communist Party.
This great tragedy transformed the collective consciousness of Ukrainians and made the nation sensitive toward other people’s sufferings.
Africa’s transition to self-sufficiency: still possible
In 2010, Harvard University professor Calestous Juma, author of ‘The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa,’ was confident that Africa could make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency “in a single generation.”
Today, this goal and accomplishments of Agenda 2063 on living standards and food security depend on the wisdom of African leaders and people.
The irresponsible behavior of the “big power” should be stopped. Expressing solidarity with Ukraine in its struggle for independence is vital. For African people, the war in Ukraine may seem far away, but its consequences have been striking at home, breaching the security of African people and moving them away from their goals.
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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