On the 27th and 28th of July 2023, the second Russia-Africa Summit was held at the Expo Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Having been initially scheduled for October 2022 at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the rescheduled Summit was attended by 49 African delegations, including 17 heads of state. While the first Russia-Africa Summit in 2019 witnessed the attendance of 43 African heads of state, the second Summit was no less significant.
Among the issues raised at the Summit were the presence of Wagner mercenaries in many African countries and the state of food security on the continent following the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Food security across Africa has been weakened since Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea grain deal. The Black Sea grain deal was brokered by the U.N. and Turkey in July 2022, allowing Ukraine to export more than 32 million tons of grain products like corn, wheat, and barley to other parts of the world through the Black Sea ports, even during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, thereby reducing food scarcity and inflation in many countries.
The Black Sea grain deal was especially crucial for many developing countries worldwide because it helped stave off global food insecurity during wartime. Ukraine is one of the largest exporters of agricultural products like wheat, barley, corn, rapeseed, and sunflowers.
Russia’s invasion of the country and the subsequent naval blockade of its ports had halted food shipments to many African countries that are massive off-takers of Ukrainian grains. Somalia, for instance, received 84,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine in 2022, up from 31,000 tonnes in 2021.
In the statement of its withdrawal from the agreement, Russia declared that it quit the deal because the West had cheated Russia by refusing to allow Russian agricultural goods to get to world markets, unlike the easy market access to food products that Ukraine’s goods enjoyed.
Indeed, Western countries have imposed payment, logistics, and insurance barriers on Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports, a situation that has not been accepted well by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader. Putin also stated that almost nothing from the grain deal gets to African countries.
Perhaps then, Russia’s enthusiasm at seeing African countries get larger grain supplies underscored the organization of the recent Russia-Africa Summit. Following the Summit, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, announced that Russia would supply six African countries—Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Eritrea—with 25,000 to 30,000 tons of grain, free of charge, within the next three to four months. He also added that Russia would provide free delivery of the product to consumers.
To underscore the Russia-Africa position on trade in grains, Putin remarked that Russia exported 11.5 million tons of grains to Africa in 2022 and almost 10 million tons of grains to Africa within the first six months of 2022 alone. However, the Russian President expressed his displeasure with the Black Sea grain deal because, according to him, the agreement did not eventually operate as intended.
According to Putin, about 70 percent of the 32.8 million tons of cargo exported from Ukraine as part of the grain deal went to high- and middle-income countries. In comparison, less than three percent, or one million tons, of the exported grains went to African countries in dire need of grain supplies, like Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia.
The Russian President proclaimed that fertilizers also found their way to countries outside the African hemisphere. Of the 262,000 tons of fertilizers to be shipped from Ukrainian ports, only 20,000 tons of fertilizers were received by Malawi, while Kenya got 34,000 tons. Putin declared that the rest of the fertilizers were exported to other high- and middle-income European countries.
Ensuring food security in Africa despite the ongoing war
While the political fraction between Russia and the West remains at the heart of why President Putin backed out of the Black Sea grain deal, African countries must endeavour not to leave their food security interests unexposed.
Given that the political fractions between Russia and its neighbours vis-à-vis European and American superpowers continue to exacerbate, African political leaders must seek alternatives to ensure food sufficiency for the teeming African populace, even as the Russia-Ukraine war rages.
Options must be explored to ensure that African food supplies are met and that more Africans are not further pushed into multidimensional poverty due to the exogenous consequences of the exacerbating war in Eastern Europe.
To bolster my assertions above, I will adduce a substantial way by which food security in Africa can be attained during the warring period between Russia and Ukraine.
Promoting intra-African food trade to reduce dependence on imported grains
Africa’s food import bill is enormous. Food experts confirm that Africa could go from spending $50 billion to import food to more than $110 billion by 2030 if urgent measures are not taken to cushion the unbridled urge for food importation. Five countries account for 50 percent of Africa’s total food imports: Egypt (15 percent), Algeria (12 percent), South Africa (9 percent), Morocco (7 percent), and Nigeria (7 percent).
Yet, despite the humongous food bill, many Africans remain on the precipitating edge of excruciating hunger pangs. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) confirms that citizens in Kenya, Somalia, and large parts of Ethiopia are at risk of acute food insecurity. While more than 40 million people are on the brink of hunger in the Sahel and Western parts of Africa.
Indeed, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the global pandemic and a prolonged drought had already affected Africa’s food supply, causing food shortages and skyrocketing food prices.
Thus, to ensure long-term food security on the continent, African countries should grow and consume staple crops like wheat, rice, barley, and many others. The World Bank admits that many of the staple foods Africans consume can be produced locally. Regional crops like fonio, teff, sorghum, amaranth, and millet can also reduce dependence on foreign cereals.
African countries spend about $35 billion yearly on food imports. Doubtless, this expense needs to be revised. Through local production of food, African countries can create much-needed jobs for many youths and generate valuable income for many smallholder farmers.
And what’s more, with better regional food market integration, the continent can rapidly move from food insufficiency to food sufficiency, thereby relying less on Russia, Ukraine, and many other foreign food exporters. This would create an efficient food value chain and improve the livelihood of many Africans.