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Middle East Faces An Extreme Decline In Wheat Over War In Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions imposed on Russia have European nations worried about access to natural gas on which they have long depended. The conflict has increased pressure on energy resources, driving up the prices of oil, gas, coal and other commodities.

But the war in Ukraine could hit more than just energy supplies in Europe. Global food security is also at risk. In particular, it could disrupt the wheat supply chain in several Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries.

Russia is the world's top wheat exporter and the largest producer after China and India. And Ukraine is one of the top five wheat exporters worldwide.

Several MENA countries are highly dependent on these exports due to the prominent role wheat plays in their regional diets.

Egypt is the world's top wheat importer, with around 70% of its wheat coming from Russia and Ukraine. Some 80% of Tunisia's grain also hails from these two countries. Lebanon imports 60% of its wheat from Ukraine.

Timing dilemma

Some parts of Ukraine currently under fire by Russian troops play a pivotal role in the country's wheat production and export. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), most of Ukraine's wheat crops are concentrated in the southeast.

As Russian forces press on with their offensive in the south, Ukraine fears the next big target will be Odesa, the country's main Black Sea port. If Russian troops block access to the Black Sea, the supply of Ukrainian wheat to the MENA region will be disrupted.

The Black Sea is of strategic importance for Ukraine's wheat supply chain as exports to the MENA region are exclusively shipped by sea, David Laborde, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told DW.

"The wheat that people are currently trading comes from the harvest of July 2021. That is before the invasion. Around one-quarter of the harvest is still available over the next three months," Laborde said. "But the fact that people can't operate in the port can create a shortage for countries such as Egypt and Lebanon."

How the war will affect food security in the MENA region depends on how long the conflict lasts.

If farmers in Ukraine aren't able to cultivate and harvest wheat crops by July 2022, the supply chain will be interrupted. But even if they are, there's no guarantee they will be able to use the necessary infrastructure to transport grain to the ports. SOURCE: DW NEWS

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