On July 17, 2023, Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal, disrupting the safe transport of Ukrainian grains through the Black Sea. The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, cited the lack of implementation of the Black Sea agreements concerning Russia as the primary reason for withdrawal. While the collapse of the deal will accelerate inflation of food prices and ultimately heighten food insecurity globally, African countries will bear the largest brunt. The deal’s collapse has brought Africa’s food dependency problem to the fore.
With Russia’s keenness to position itself as a key ally to African countries, it should prioritize enabling the continent to avert food crises sustainably. Russia should partner with African governments to accelerate the implementation and adoption of climate-smart agriculture in partner countries. Russia should also re-direct funding towards building sustainable irrigation programs and water desalination to ensure more water is available for agriculture. At the same time, Russia should partner with African governments to create more harvest storage facilities, such as silos, to curb post-harvest losses.
Ukrainian ports have exported 32.8 million tonnes of grain since signing the Black Sea grain deal in July 2022. Since the agreement, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Kenya, and Ethiopia remain in the top 20 grain importers. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that the deal helped control the inflation of food prices. For the time that the agreement was in place, global food prices dropped by 23 percent.
The Black Sea grain deal also enabled the World Food Programme to transport more than 72,000 tonnes of wheat, some of which went to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Somalia as food aid.
The collapse of the Black Sea grain deal will have two significant debilitating impacts on Africa: The deal’s failure will lead to supply chain constraints, causing grain prices and inflation levels to rise. Also, countries experiencing their worst drought in decades, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, will be significantly impacted.
At the Russia-Africa summit in July 2023, President Vladimir Putin promised to ship 50,000 tonnes of grain to six African nations within three to four months to prevent a “global food crisis.” However, if Russia genuinely wants to help African countries avert food crises, it should go beyond providing food aid. Over time, food aid has only created a dependency problem. Despite food aid serving a crucial role during different crises, over time, it has had a discouraging impact on African governments. These governments do not support their local agricultural sectors enough because they know food aid is readily available.
Due to insufficient food production, many African nations import food items like grains from abroad. However, this reliance on food imports exposes African countries to global market fluctuations and currency instability.
To make a lasting impact, Russia should collaborate with international organizations like FAO and African governments to accelerate the implementation of climate-smart agriculture. Climate-smart agriculture involves sustainable intensification and efficient resource use to increase agricultural productivity while causing minimal environmental harm.
Russia could provide technical support to help African partner countries adopt artificial intelligence technology for effective data-driven decision-making for optimal resource use. Russia could also offer grants to fund research geared towards developing new agriculture techniques for climate resilience. Adopting climate-smart agriculture would strengthen resilience against climate change impacts such as droughts, and water-saving techniques would help farmers withstand long periods of water scarcity.
Over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture in African nations despite a shift in climatic patterns has contributed to food crises. Russia can re-direct funds towards building sustainable irrigation systems, dams, water reservoirs, and water desalination, thus increasing water available for agriculture. A point of interest is the 250 billion cubic meters aquifer that lies unutilized in Turkana, one of Kenya’s arid regions, simply because the government deemed the desalination process “economically unviable.” If the Russian government concentrated on investing in such a project, Kenyans would not need food aid anymore.
FAO postulates that 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in developing nations goes to waste due to improper inputs and inadequate post-harvest storage facilities. The Russian government could support African countries to build harvest storage facilities like silos, more so by involving the private sector.
Lewis-Miller is a writing fellow at African Liberty.