OPINION | The Ukraine war left millions of Africans food insecure, and a bigger crisis looms

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Africa is heavily reliant on Russia and Ukraine for food imports.
Africa is heavily reliant on Russia and Ukraine for food imports.

Africa's over-reliance on Ukraine and Russia for food importation means that the food crisis will get worse. African nations must prioritise food sovereignty, writes Olakunle Mohammed

On 24 February, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine at a time when the global economy was recovering from massive job loss, a rise in poverty, and food insecurity. The invasion disrupted the import of Russian and Ukrainian commodities. African countries have had to bear a part of this negative effect as most of them depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat, mustard oil, and sugar imports. To prevent future exposure, there is an urgent need for African countries to develop stronger trade mechanisms to mitigate the aftershocks of conflict of this magnitude. 

In Africa, over 340 million people currently face food insecurity due to the impact of the war in Ukraine. This figure is 17% higher than in 2021. The continent's over-reliance on Ukraine and Russia for food importation means that the food crisis will get worse. A rewarding solution would be for African nations to prioritise food sovereignty to curb the looming food crisis. 

Food sovereignty is a systemic change in the food system. The scheme places local farmers at the centre of modern agriculture. It empowers local farmers to produce and distribute crops that thrive within their regions without fear of unfavorable trade regulations, climate change, lack of infrastructure, and drought.

Prioritising local food cultivation can cushion the effects of food insecurity caused by import problems like the war in Ukraine. African nations through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) framework can encourage a greater intra-African exchange of food commodities. The AfCFTA framework will ensure that agricultural produce easily moves within Africa without strict custom regulations and high import taxes.

Upholding free trade policies, especially intra-African trade, is important to lessen the food crisis. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) revealed that smuggling and dumping of goods within member states affect its free trade policies. For this reason, the AfCFTA’s pilot framework and trade policies must be upheld by member states, particularly those from ECOWAS.

African manufacturing industries are significant to economic growth and an AfCFTA manufacturing policy would improve product accessibility and cut down foreign means of production. This policy will streamline agricultural production, transportation of raw materials to manufacturing plants, production process, and distribution to consumers. 

African countries can generate more revenue by filling the disruption in the energy supply chain caused by Russia’s gas cuts. Major oil and gas exporters in Africa can ramp up natural gas production and increase their exports to Europe. The current EU deal with Nigeria and the revival of the Algeria-Niger-Nigeria gas pipeline project are recent examples of African states filling the gas supply gap.

Although Africa is dealing with its internal wars due to recent coups, conflict, human rights abuses, insecurity, and political instability in some states. Twelve out of 15 countries experiencing conflict are currently battling acute food insecurity. This situation makes it imperative to achieve a continental free trade area that will reduce food insecurity, hunger, and abject poverty. Also, the AfCFTA will create the much-needed continental trade force that can withstand the aftershocks of outside wars and conflicts.

Olakunle Mohammed is a writing fellow at the African Liberty. News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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