Interrupted wheat supplies from the world’s ‘bread basket’ will profoundly affect a region already in economic turmoil.

By Joe Stork, Responsible Statecraft

The crisis provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is upending the global political order and underlying trade structures.

A good part of the trade disruption stems from the leading roles of Russia and Ukraine as exporters of wheat and other food staples. According to the U.N. Trade and Development Agency, the two countries account for 27 percent of wheat exports and 53 percent of sunflower oil and seeds worldwide. Russia is also a key global supplier of fertilizers and hydrocarbons.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has expressed concern that the war will disrupt Ukraine’s spring harvest and planting season, with consequences for global grain supplies beyond the coming few months. Rising costs for importing food and fuel will affect household as well as national budgets already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Syrian boys sells flatbread in Damascus

The military conflict has largely cut off Ukraine’s access to its Black Sea ports, and the Ukrainian government banned grain and other food exports in early March to ensure domestic supplies. The country’s limited rail capacity to export overland has been further impaired by the demands of war mobilization. The fighting threatens to interfere with Ukraine’s spring planting season, impacting the labor and resources available for food production over the medium term. For Russia, heavy and comprehensive financial and trade sanctions have disrupted its ability to export and import. And the Ukraine war erupted at a time when food prices were already climbing as a result of rising energy, and thus fertilizer and feedstock, costs.

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