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How the War in Ukraine is Fueling a Worldwide Food Crisis: Key Early Warnings

July 2 2024

The War in Ukraine has not only reshaped the geopolitical landscape but also ignited a global food crisis that threatens to push millions into hunger. With Ukraine being one of the world's leading agricultural producers, the conflict has...

The War in Ukraine has not only reshaped the geopolitical landscape but also ignited a global food crisis that threatens to push millions into hunger. With Ukraine being one of the world's leading agricultural producers, the conflict has had far-reaching implications for food security across the globe. Furthermore, the war has introduced new food safety challenges, such as increased levels of contaminants and violations of good manufacturing practices, which further exacerbate the global food crisis.

Thesis Statement: This article delves into how the War in Ukraine is fueling a worldwide food crisis, presenting key early warnings that highlight the urgent need for global attention and action. It also explores emerging food safety issues linked to the conflict, highlighting the broader impact on food security.


Context of the War in Ukraine: The conflict in Ukraine, which began in 2014 and escalated dramatically in February 2022, has caused significant upheaval. This war, involving major military operations and widespread destruction, has not only devastated local communities but also disrupted global economic and agricultural systems.

Ukraine's Role in Global Agriculture: Ukraine, often referred to as the "breadbasket of Europe," plays a crucial role in global agriculture. It is a top exporter of grains such as wheat and corn, as well as sunflower oil. Before the conflict, Ukraine supplied about 10% of the world's wheat, 13% of corn, and over 50% of sunflower oil. The country's fertile lands and favorable climate conditions make it a key player in feeding populations around the world.

Immediate Impacts on Food Supply

Disruption of Agricultural Activities: The war has significantly disrupted agricultural activities in Ukraine. With active combat zones overlapping with key agricultural regions, farmers have faced immense challenges in planting and harvesting crops. Fields have been abandoned, equipment destroyed, and access to essential farming inputs like seeds and fertilizers has been severely restricted. The conflict has made it nearly impossible for many Ukrainian farmers to carry out their usual agricultural operations. As a result, Ukraine's grain production dropped by 29% in the 2022/2023 season​ (FAOHome)

​​Ukraine’s wheat exports suffering from the war:

Ukraine wheat exports suffering from the war

Source: Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food for Ukraine and Council of the European Union

Supply Chain Interruptions: The conflict has also caused significant interruptions in supply chains. Key ports on the Black Sea, such as Odessa, have been blocked or damaged, preventing the export of millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products. Transportation routes, including railways and roads, have been damaged or deemed unsafe, further complicating the movement of goods within and out of the country. These logistical challenges have created bottlenecks, leading to delays and increased costs for transporting Ukrainian agricultural products to international markets.

These immediate impacts on agricultural activities and supply chains in Ukraine have had a ripple effect on global food supplies, leading to rising prices and shortages in many parts of the world. In the next section, we will examine the broader global consequences of these disruptions.

Global Ripple Effects

Rising Food Prices: The disruption in Ukraine's agricultural output has led to a noticeable increase in global food prices. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Food Price Index reached its highest levels in a decade in 2023. Wheat prices, for example, surged by over 30% within the first six months of the conflict, and corn prices increased by nearly 25% (FAO)​​ . This escalation is a direct result of the diminished supply from Ukraine, which traditionally serves as a major supplier to international markets.


Source: International Grains Council (IGC) and Council of the European Union

Impact on Import-Dependent Countries: Countries that heavily rely on Ukrainian grain and other agricultural exports have been particularly hard hit. For instance, Egypt, the world's largest importer of wheat, sources nearly 80% of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia. The conflict has forced Egypt to seek alternative suppliers at higher costs, exacerbating the country’s economic challenges. Similarly, Lebanon, which imports over 50% of its wheat from Ukraine, has faced significant bread shortages, leading to increased food insecurity and public unrest. (FAO Cereal Supply and Demand Brief

Increased Risk of Famine: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the war in Ukraine could push millions of people into famine. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa, already vulnerable due to existing conflicts and economic instability, are at greater risk. The WFP estimates that up to 13 million (World Food Programme) more people worldwide could be pushed into hunger as a direct consequence of the disruptions caused by the Ukraine conflict.

Supply Chain Strain: Beyond price increases, the war has also strained global supply chains. The closure of Ukrainian ports has forced exporters to reroute their shipments through less efficient and more costly pathways, such as overland through Europe. This not only delays deliveries but also increases transportation costs, contributing to higher prices for consumers. For example, a shipment of grain that would typically take a few weeks to transport from Ukraine to North Africa now takes months, adding to the logistical headaches and increasing the final cost of goods.

Energy Prices and Agricultural Costs: The conflict has also driven up energy prices, which directly affects agricultural production costs. Higher fuel prices increase the cost of running farm equipment and transporting goods. Fertilizer prices have also surged due to supply disruptions, as both Ukraine and Russia are key producers of nitrogen-based fertilizers. The increased cost of these essential inputs has put additional financial pressure on farmers worldwide, leading to higher prices for end consumers.

These global ripple effects underscore the interconnectedness of global food systems and highlight the widespread consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. In the next section, we will explore early warning insights that can help anticipate and mitigate further impacts.

The Flip Side of the Crisis: Russia and Sanctions

Sanctions and Their Impact on Russia: In response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the international community imposed stringent sanctions, significantly affecting Russia's role in global supply chains.

  • Russia's Role in Global Agriculture: Russia is a major exporter of wheat, providing about 18% of the global supply, and a key supplier of fertilizers.
  • Disruption of Supply Chains: Sanctions have led to logistical challenges and increased costs, disrupting the export of agricultural products.
  • Impact on Fertilizer Supply: Reduced fertilizer exports from Russia have caused global price hikes, doubling the price of urea and increasing farming costs worldwide.
  • Food Security Risks: Regions reliant on Russian and Ukrainian wheat, like Sub-Saharan Africa, face price increases and shortages. The World Bank reports a 23% rise in food prices in the region since the conflict began. (World Bank Food Security Update)
  • Global Response and Adaptation: Countries are seeking alternative suppliers and increasing local production to mitigate the impact of sanctions on global food supplies.

Early Warning Insights

At SGS Digicomply, we have identified several critical early warnings that indicate the potential for further deterioration in global food security due to the ongoing War in Ukraine.

Economic Indicators: Several key economic indicators have shown alarming trends. The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities, has consistently reported significant increases. For example, the index rose by 12.6% in the first quarter of 2023 alone, signaling escalating costs that are likely to affect consumers worldwide. Additionally, trade volumes of wheat and corn from Ukraine have dropped by over 50% compared to pre-war levels, reflecting severe supply disruptions.

Humanitarian Concerns: International organizations, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations, have issued urgent warnings about potential food shortages and hunger crises. The WFP has highlighted that countries in the Horn of Africa, which are already experiencing severe drought, are now facing compounded risks due to reduced grain imports from Ukraine. These regions could see a doubling of acute hunger levels, potentially affecting up to 20 million people.

Policy Responses: In response to these early warning signs, several governments and international bodies have started to implement measures aimed at mitigating the crisis. The European Union has initiated the "Solidarity Lanes" project, designed to facilitate the transportation of Ukrainian agricultural products through alternative routes, including rail and road networks. Additionally, countries like the United States and Canada have increased their grain production to help offset the shortfall from Ukraine. (FAO Food Price Index​)

Market Adjustments: Market analysts have noted significant adjustments in agricultural trading patterns. For instance, there has been a marked increase in grain exports from countries like Argentina and Australia, which are stepping in to fill the gap left by Ukraine. However, these adjustments come with higher transportation costs and logistical complexities, which are ultimately passed on to consumers.

Climate Impact: Another critical early warning is the impact of climate change on global agriculture, which the war has exacerbated. Extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, are becoming more frequent and severe, reducing agricultural productivity. The combination of climate change and conflict-induced disruptions creates a precarious situation for global food security.

Technological Solutions: As a proactive measure, several technological solutions are being explored and implemented. These include advancements in agricultural technology, such as precision farming and the use of drought-resistant crop varieties, aimed at increasing resilience against future shocks. At SGS Digicomply, we are actively monitoring these developments and providing insights to help stakeholders navigate these challenges.

These early warning insights highlight the urgent need for coordinated global action to address the emerging food crisis. In the next section, we will delve into specific case studies that illustrate the real-world impact of these disruptions.

SGS Digicomply FSI Insights: Emerging Food Safety Issues

In addition to the economic and humanitarian impacts outlined above, the war in Ukraine has led to the emergence of new food safety issues that exacerbate the global food crisis. According to data from the SGS DigiComply Food Safety Intelligence Hub, there has been a significant increase in food safety incidents in both Ukraine and Russia.

Increase in Food Safety Incidents: The overall number of food safety incidents reported in Ukraine and Russia has almost doubled from 2022 to 2023, with a growth rate of 94.96%. By mid-2024, the number of incidents has already reached the total observed in 2023, indicating a potentially even higher annual total. This alarming trend highlights the deteriorating food safety conditions in regions heavily impacted by the conflict.

Trend of Food Safety Incidents in Ukraine and Russia 2012 - 2024

Note: Data for 2024 is provided up to July 1, 2024.

Focus on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Violations: The conflict has also led to a substantial increase in GMP violations. When comparing the previous 12 months to the prior 24 months using data from the SGS DigiComply Food Safety Intelligence Hub, there has been a 36.84% increase in overall adulteration incidents and a 72.73% increase in GMP violations specifically. This suggests that the ongoing war is significantly undermining food safety standards and practices in these regions.

Rise in Contaminants: New contaminants are becoming more prevalent. For example, the incidents involving mycotoxins in Ukraine and Russia have surged by over 600% from 2022 to 2023.

Trend of Mycotoxin Contamination in Ukraine and Russia (2022-2024)

Note: Data for 2024 is provided up to July 1, 2024.

Similarly, incidents of heavy metal contamination have more than doubled, with a 120% increase during the same period. These trends underscore the emerging and escalating threats to food safety due to the war.

Trend of Heavy Metal Contamination in Ukraine and Russia (2022-2024)

Note: Data for 2024 is provided up to July 1, 2024.

Future Outlook: Hope for Peace

The War in Ukraine has shown how fragile our global food system can be, with far-reaching impacts on food security worldwide. As we look to the future, the hope for peace becomes more crucial than ever. Peace could bring stability back to agricultural production and trade, helping to lower food prices and reduce shortages. It’s essential for countries to work together, finding innovative solutions to make our food supply chains more resilient. By fostering cooperation and understanding, we can not only address the current crisis but also build a more secure and sustainable food future for everyone.

Tags: food supply chain, Early warning, Agricultural, War in Ukraine, Food Crisis, Global Food Security


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