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By Saara Rathod, age 13 and IndyKids staff

The Russian war against Ukraine is having worldwide consequences. In March, the United Nations food chief David Beasley warned that the war has created “a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe” and that we may see a food crisis worse than during the Second World War. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, tens of thousands of civilians and both Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have died, and there is still no end in sight.

Ukraine is a large exporter of grains, corn and vegetable oil. Russia is the second-largest producer of natural gas, a key ingredient used in fertilizers, which farmers depend on to grow crops. Together, Ukraine and Russia produce a third of worldwide wheat supplies. As Ukrainian farmers are being forced to fight the war, they can no longer care for their crops, so exports have almost ground to a halt. Wheat is one of the cheapest and most widely used grains and is a critical component of food security.  

As a result, food has and will continue to become more expensive. Even before the war, grocery prices in the United States had already gone up by 8.6% following the coronavirus pandemic. Global wheat prices have risen between 20% to 50% so far this year. Africa, in particular, is being heavily impacted. Wheat makes up 90% of Africa’s $4 billion of total goods traded with Russia and 50% of their $4.5 billion of goods traded with Ukraine. One-third of East Africa’s grain supply comes from Russia and Ukraine, according to Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank. 

For now, Ukraine is still producing wheat. However, exporting the estimated 55 million tons of wheat currently available in the country, according to Earth.org, is the main issue. As the ports used by Ukraine to export 90% of their goods by cargo ship have been seized by Russia, they can now only export a small fraction of their wheat by land.

The world may now be bracing for a global wheat shortage, as the U.N. warns that 30% to 40% of the fall 2022 harvest in Ukraine is now at risk. These losses are the equivalent to the daily calorie intake of nearly 150 million people.