Russia’s withdrawal from a grain deal with Ukraine that fed millions of people in Africa in the last year could upend food security in several countries already reeling from multiple crises, humanitarian organizations and officials have warned.
Countries in the Horn of Africa, like Somalia and Ethiopia, could be hit the hardest, according to Allison Huggins, deputy Africa director at Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization.
“When you compound conflict, drought and climate change with acute food insecurity, the impact could be catastrophic,” she said.
A top official in Kenya’s foreign affairs ministry, Korir Sing’Oei, called Russia’s decision “a stab on the back.”
After grain prices soared last year, millions of additional people in Africa faced acute food insecurity on a continent already struggling to feed its hungry. Leaders of African countries vowed to develop local crops, and Russia promised fertilizer and grain.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative instead provided short-term relief, freeing cereals from Ukraine that helped bring down the price of grain from other producing countries.
The World Food Program, for instance, bought 725,000 metric tons of grain through the deal, half of which was dedicated to East African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
As of July, the World Food Program had secured 80 percent of the grain it needed for 2023, according to Brenda Tariuki, the group’s communications director for East Africa. But reserves could dwindle fast as humanitarian demands grow in volatile areas, she said.
“In the short term, we’re OK,” Ms. Tariuki said. “But if the deal is not renegotiated in the near future, it will only be a matter of time before we run out of grain.”
Other regions on the continent, including in West and Central Africa, are less dependent on Ukrainian grain.
And good harvests last year replenished reserves, bringing down the prices that had spiked in 2022, according to wheat importers.
“We’re safe for the next four to six months, thanks to high reserves,” said Rimon Hajjar, a leading flour producer in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. “That’s for now. It could become much more preoccupying later in the summer.”
Over the past year, Russia has also begun to deliver wheat to countries like Mali at a discounted rate. In recent weeks, at least two Russian ships with 25,000 tons of wheat each have docked in the port of Conakry, in Guinea. It wasn’t clear if other countries were also receiving Russian grain.