The Russia-Ukraine War: What will happen to food prices, and what can we learn from prior shocks?

Read here about the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian war on commodity prices (wheat and fertiliser) and policy implications for countries in North and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East

Publisher SPARC
By Mark Redwood Steve Wiggins
Africa Middle East Global

 In the five weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, commodity markets have been rocked, as both economies have effectively been removed from global trade. Ukrainian exports have virtually stopped. Daily sanctions on Russia are further pressuring markets. Major grain dealers, such as Bunge and ADM, have closed their facilities in the region, and Maersk, amongst other shipping companies, has suspended service to Russian ports.

These dramatic and quick shifts in trade will acutely impact many developing countries, including in North and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, where many people struggle to afford their food.  

Rising wheat and fertiliser prices

Wheat and fertiliser availability are having the greatest impact on food price changes. Ukraine and Russia produce 14% of the world’s wheat and account for over 30% of the export market (Croix Rouge, 2022). Wheat prices reached $12.45/bushel on 7 March, the highest price since 2008.

Russia produces 20% of the world’s potash, and Ukraine is also a major exporter of fertilisers, notably urea (NRCAN, 2022). Already-high prices have spiked even higher. Potash had almost doubled in price, to $392/mt, from January to the end of February (World Bank Commodity Price Data, 2022).

Impact on countries in North and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East

Countries across North and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East will feel the effects. For example, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda all abstained from condemning Russia’s invasion in the UN General Assembly, a sign – in part – of close economic and military ties.

Some African countries rely on Ukraine and Russia for both cereal and fertiliser imports:

People affected by failed rains now face higher food prices

Extreme weather across Africa is complicating the fragile market place. East Africa faces a series of failed rains (SPARC, 2022). A combination of dry conditions and protracted conflicts means the number of people facing extreme hunger has grown from 3.6 million to 10.5 million in West Africa (WFP, 2022). The United Nations General Assembly noted on 7 March that the conflict Ukraine is having an immediate negative impact on the poor, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and increasing food insecurity (UN, 2022, Statement from the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affaires).

In response, we can draw lessons from previous food-price crises:

This is the time for international agencies to redouble efforts on food security. The problem is not only the war in Ukraine, but also a story of multiple, compounding challenges and how people adapt. By learning from prior experience, we can help navigate the volatile near future.

SPARC-Knowledge Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises (SPARC) generates evidence and addresses knowledge gaps to build the resilience of millions of pastoralists, agro-pastoralists and farmers in pastoralist communities in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

Source URL: