Shoppers scramble for staples as food fallout from war in Ukraine spreads around the world


The shock waves in global crop markets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are now spreading to store shelves.

Concerns over soaring sunflower oil prices sparked big buying this weekend in Turkey, as footage of citizens trying to grab boxes of cheaper oil from a store went viral. In Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, prices of some unsubsidized breads jumped last week.

The war has already driven wheat prices up 70% in Chicago this year and threatens to disrupt global food trade. Russia and Ukraine are vital suppliers of grain, vegetable oil and fertilizer, meaning supply disruptions will be felt around the world. Wheat prices have risen above levels last seen during the 2008 global food crisis – which helped spark widespread protests – and a United Nations food price index hit a record high in February.
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The shock waves in global crop markets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are now spreading to store shelves.

Concerns over soaring sunflower oil prices sparked big buying this weekend in Turkey, as footage of citizens trying to grab boxes of cheaper oil from a store went viral. In Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, prices of some unsubsidized breads jumped last week.

Erik Romanenko—TASS via Getty Images A combine harvester in a field in the village of Fyodorovka, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, July 20, 2021.

The war has already driven wheat prices up 70% in Chicago this year and threatens to disrupt global food trade. Russia and Ukraine are vital suppliers of grain, vegetable oil and fertilizer, meaning supply disruptions will be felt around the world. Wheat prices have risen above levels last seen during the 2008 global food crisis – which helped spark widespread protests – and a United Nations food price index hit a record high in February.

In Turkey, sunflower oil is the main cooking oil and a key component of food expenditure. Images of an 18-liter box selling for 989 lira ($69) sparked debates over the cost of living, despite the item not being available at all on the websites of some grocery chains.

The concern over sunflower oil prices is linked to imports blocked on ships in the Sea of ​​Azov, the northeastern tip of the Black Sea, according to Ahmet Atici, secretary general of the Association of Industrialists of the ‘vegetable oil.

“Russia should let these ships go,” Atici said. The group sent a letter to the Department of Commerce earlier this month, warning that current supplies may only last until mid-April.

Read more: Why Russia Sanctions Don’t Target Oil and Gas

A total of 18 Turkish commercial vessels are waiting on the Don River and at Russian ports in the Sea of ​​Azov, a Turkish official told Bloomberg, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak out publicly on the issue. Turkey is in contact with Russia to resolve the issue, the official said.

Inflation in Turkey is already at its highest level in 20 years, and the last period of high global food prices a decade ago sparked protests and political unrest in many parts of the world.

In Egypt, bakers say prices for unsubsidized bread are rising due to rising costs since the invasion of Ukraine. A pack of five flatbreads can now sell for around 7.5 pounds ($0.48) in the greater Cairo area, up from 5 pounds a week ago, according to Khaled Sabri, a member of the chamber’s bakery division of Egyptian trade.

A European Union trade group has warned it could run out of sunflower oil at the same time, with lost volumes from Ukraine impossible to make up for in the short term.

Jakarta markets ahead of CPI figures
Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg via Getty Images A customer buys vegetables at the Pasar Induk Kramat Jati wholesale market in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 26, 2022.

“In the near term, food prices in world markets are expected to rise further amid all the uncertainty,” the Agricultural Market Information System said in a report. “This will add to global food insecurity.”

Ukraine and Russia together account for about three quarters of world sunflower oil exports. Prices from Ukraine had risen about 50% from June, according to figures from UkrAgroConsult, the latest of which was from February 24, the day of the invasion.

Turkey’s vegetable oil imports topped $1 billion in 2021, according to official data. The country, which ranks as the world’s largest flour shipper, also tightened its authority over some crop exports last week, granting the agriculture ministry powers to make “periodic arrangements” if necessary.

Even in Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of edible oils, high prices are starting to bite. The government is tightening control over local produce, while supermarkets have imposed a purchase limit of one packet per buyer on cooking oil. Families bring their young children to line up so they can buy more.

“We get information from parking attendants on when fresh produce will arrive at our local mini-market,” said Nining Ristyaningsih, a mother of three from Depok, near Jakarta. “Then I would bring my husband and sometimes my children to line up.”

With the help of Inci Ozbek, Abdel Latif Wahba and Firat Kozok.


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