“The cost of living is high these days, which makes it difficult for even families to buy flour and oil,” she says.
Haji Abdi Dhiblawe, a businessman who imports wheat flour into Somalia, fears the situation will only get worse: there is also a looming shortage of shipping containers to bring food from elsewhere in this moment.
“Somalis don’t have a place to grow wheat, and we don’t even know how to grow it,” he says. “Our main concern now is what the future holds as we are currently short of supplies.”
Another 18 million people face severe famine in the Sahel, the part of Africa just below the Sahara Desert where farmers are suffering their worst agricultural output in more than a decade. The United Nations World Food Program says food shortages could worsen when the lean season hits in late summer.
“Acute hunger is at unprecedented levels and the global situation is only getting worse. Conflict, the climate crisis, Covid-19 and soaring food and fuel prices have created a perfect storm – and now we have the war in Ukraine which is piling disaster on disaster,” the executive director warned. WFP, David Beasley, earlier this month.
Even the cost of therapeutic food for malnourished children could increase by 16% over the next six months due to the war in Ukraine and pandemic-related disruptions, according to UNICEF.
African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to UN figures. The African Development Bank is already reporting a 45% increase in wheat prices on the continent, making everything from couscous in Mauritania to fried donuts sold in Congo more expensive for customers.
“Africa has no control over production or logistics chains and is totally at the mercy of the situation,” said Senegalese President Macky Sall, chairperson of the African Union, who said he would travel to Russia and Ukraine to discuss pricing issues.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed the West last week to lift sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine, seeking to blame Russia on the West for a growing global food crisis that has been worsened by the Ukraine’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain. and other agricultural products when attacked.
Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers provided that the politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted” , according to the Kremlin.
Western officials have dismissed the Russian claims. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that food, fertilizer and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the US and many others on Russia.
In Cameroon, baker Sylvester Ako says he has seen his daily clientele drop from 300 customers a day to just 100 since the price of bread jumped 40% due to lack of wheat imports. He has already laid off three of his seven employees and fears he will have to close his Yaoundé business completely unless something changes.
“The price of a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of wheat is now selling for $60 – down from around $30 – and the supply is not steady,” Ako said.
Along with the wheat import shortfall, the African Development Bank is also warning of a potential 20% drop in food production on the continent as farmers have to pay 300% more for their imported fertilizers.
The organization says it plans to address the issues through a $1.5 billion plan that will provide African farmers with certified seeds, fertilizers and other assistance. Reducing dependence on foreign imports is part of the strategy, but these economic transitions will likely take years, not months.
The Senegalese president says appetites can pivot faster. It encourages Africans to consume local cereals that were once the basis of their diet.
“We also need to change our eating habits,” Sall said. “We gave up millet and started importing rice from Asia. Now we only know how to eat rice and we don’t produce enough of it. We only know how to eat bread. We do not produce wheat.