- In an escalation of geopolitical tension, Russia has pulled a power move, ending the Black Sea Gran Initiative. To what extent does this decision threaten food security in Africa?
- Collapse of the deal will drive inflationary pressure on grain prices, especially in countries heavily reliant on imports, experts warn.
- Currently, Africa is facing biting food shortage as inflation fueled by high food and fuel prices grips economies.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that allowed the export of Ukrainian agricultural produce especially grains through the Black Sea, has collapsed following the withdrawal of Moscow from the agreement. For those unaware, the Black Sea Gran Initiative, was negotiated by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022.
The deal, up to Monday July 24th, was allowing ships to carry fertilizer and agricultural products from three Ukrainian ports. It let ships to sail through strictly mapped routes, to avoid mines and Russian warships to Turkey’s Bosporus strait.
Global food prices
The deal helped lower food costs considerably in Africa and around the world. In fact, upon signing the deal, global food costs dipped an impressive 23 percent compared to the highs of March 2022.
In the period, roughly over 32.8 million tonnes of Ukrainian corn, wheat, and other grains have been successfully exported under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The Black Sea Grain Initiative brought great relief to developing countries which received more than half of the grains that were ferried thanks to the deal.
The grains were transported to Africa mostly in the form of World Food Programme (WFP) donations. The UN agency says much of this grain was donated to drought-affected communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Notably this was happening when the Horn of Africa was battling its worst drought in 40 years.
During the signing ceremony of the Black Sea Grain Initiative last year in Istanbul, UN Secretary-General António Guterres termed it a “beacon of hope”.
Starting this week, however, Russia has refused to renew the deal. The move brings to end the short-lived Black Sea Grain Initiative and threatens Africa’s food security agenda.
Why end the Black Sea Grain Initiative?
Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative will cause consumer prices to increase in Africa and globally. Debisi Araba, a food policy strategist and former Managing Director at the African Green Revolution Forum, highlights the significance of this decision. The pause in exports from the region will particularly affect food prices in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, he notes.
According to him, there will be inflationary pressure on grain prices, especially in countries heavily reliant on imports. These grains serve as staples, feeding millions of people. As a result, more people may be pushed into vulnerability and insecurity.
So what is the end game for Russia in its halting of this vital food distribution deal?
First, Russia has pulled out of the deal right before hosting the second Russia-Africa Summit. This is very curious timing since Africa was the biggest beneficiary of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Is Russia trying to show Africa the power it holds over the continent’s food supply? Is Russia attempting to make a new deal directly with the African leaders?
As the Russia Africa Summit got underway in St Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin had some good news for Africa. “In the coming months, we will be ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea with 25,000-50,000 tonnes of grain free of charge,” Putin told African leaders on Thursday.
The proposal and the two-day Russia-Africa Summit are designed to depict Moscow as a superpower despite heavy western sanctions and growing disquiet in the developing world over its destabilizing conflict in Ukraine.
Kremlin maintains that once its key demands are met, then it has no qualms bringing the UN-brokered deal back to life. On top of its list of demands, Russia wants the easing of restrictions on its fertilizer products.
“Ending the Black Sea Grain Initiative is adding challenges for countries already experiencing the effects of a changing climate,” said Ayan Mahamoud, a climate resilience expert with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose members are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. “Climate change is known to disrupt agricultural productivity, affecting crop yields and food production.”
Why fertile Africa is still a food importer?
Which begs the question: Now that it is clear Africa is at the mercy of Russia to eat, what will the continent do to guarantee food security? It is alarming that over 60 years after independence, Africa remains a net food importer.
This is despite the fact that most of Africa is fertile, and enjoys tropical weather suitable for agriculture all year round. Further, Africa’s population is estimated to be made up of 80 percent of farmers. Worse still, unemployment in Africa remains a major economic development hurdle as its growing youth population remain jobless.
All these three factors, fertile land, suitable climate, and workforce availability, suggest that Africa has what it takes to feed itself. So, why does Africa import grain from Russia and Ukraine instead of joining them in feeding the world?
A quick survey shows that Africa lacks the technology needed for large commercial farming ventures. The continent also lacks the needed capital to invest in modern farming technologies.
Then there is the small matter of a shortage of skilled labour compounded with the low adoption of modern farming techniques. Climate change is threatening to make it even more difficult for farmers in Africa.
All these reasons sound plausible until you start to wonder what Africa does with all the aid it receives annually. Why not invest in solving these very basic problems to increase its agricultural productivity?
Africa lacks prioritization of food production, as reflected in each country’s annual budget. The Maputo Declaration, signed by nearly all African nations, is a clear example of this failure. The pact called for allocating 10 percent of each African country’s budget to agricultural development. To date, only a few countries have truly upheld this commitment.
Who controls Africa‘s food production?
One wonders what would happen to the global market if Africa was not a net importer of grains and other food products? If the very supply of grains from Russia and Ukraine is enough to cause global shifts in food prices, then imagine if Africa put a stop to the importation altogether.
Africa has been entering into numerous deals with global superpowers. And each of these powers is looking out for the interests of their own countries. Is it possible that these deals, most of which are confidential, prevent Africa from increasing its food production capacity beyond a certain set cap?
Here is some more food for thought for starving Africa. Jane Nalunga, Head of the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Negotiations Institute in Uganda has this to say about Africa being a food importer: “There is no reason why African countries are net food importers. We have the potential to grow our food, we have the potential to produce our own fertilizers. Food is an issue of sovereignty. For somebody to feed you, you know that you are not a sovereign nation.”