Ukraine war wheat shortages could cause civil unrest in Africa, warns bank head

It's high time Africa started feeding itself in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, Dr Akinwumi Adesina tells 'The National'

Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AFDB), speaks in an exclusive interview with The National at the World Government Summit 2022 in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Powered by automated translation

The sudden shortage of wheat, maize and other grains imported from Russia and Ukraine could spark civil unrest in Africa as food supply chains are tested again on the heels of a global pandemic, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) has said.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Dr Akinwumi Adesina said there is a yawning gap between the production of cereal crops and consumption of growing populations on the continent, which puts the region at risk of food insecurity and necessitates a major expansion of agricultural investments and adoption of new technologies.

“If we do not intervene now and support Africa to produce the food, we could easily be looking at a looming food crisis and a potential for civil unrest. Because when people can’t buy food, then you're going to have a lot of civil unrest,” he said.

The International Grains Council said that Russia and Ukraine, at war since February 24, account for almost a quarter of the world’s wheat exports and one fifth of the world’s barley exports.

Since the start of February, prices of grains have jumped from anywhere between 22 per cent to 37 per cent.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says wheat alone accounts for an estimated 20 per cent of human calorie consumption, mostly in poor nations where bread is a fixture of the daily diet.

“Now, let me explain that Russia’s exports to Africa are about $4 billion a year, 90 per cent of that is actually wheat. If you take the case of Ukraine, their exports are roughly $4.5bn a year,” Dr Akinwumi Adesina told The National on the sidelines of the World Government Summit held in Dubai on March 28-30.

“Most of that is wheat and maize. Ukraine alone accounts for 31 per cent of the maize imports for the African countries,” he added.

“So, you can see that the effect on Africa is going to be very, very serious. Many countries like Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya will have a lot of problems.”

Averting a food crisis in Africa

Dr Adesina said the AfDB initiatives and programmes set up before the war will help to alleviate the effect on Africa, which must work tirelessly to be self-sufficient in feeding itself in the years to come.

He said the AfDB has formulated a $1bn emergency food production plan for Africa to mitigate the impact of the European war.

“We will reach 20 million farmers with technologies to produce wheat as well as rice and they will produce 30 million metric tons of food with a value of $12bn,” Dr Adesina said.

Drought-tolerant crops

Climate change is also aggravating food insecurity in Africa.

A third consecutive year of poor rains is posing a major threat to food security in countries already facing natural resource limitations, conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic and locust swarms.

This makes adequate assistance from the AFDB and major international institutions more urgent, says Dr Adesina.

The former minister of agriculture and rural development in Nigeria says the AfDB has incorporated biotechnology in Africa to help countries fight climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and soil degradation to increase crop production.

“For the last five years, we've been running a programme called the Feed Africa Strategy. At the core of that strategy is what is called technologies for African agricultural transformation.

“It's a platform that brings together the best of technologies from the global agricultural research centres and the private sector.

“In just two seasons in 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic, we have been able to supply 12 million farmers with drought tolerant wheat, maize, rice and soybeans.”

Biotechnology is widely used to develop new strains of corn and other crops that can thrive when water is in short supply, as environmentalists predict a global trend of worsening drought and hotter temperatures, with Africa and Middle East countries taking the brunt.

Bankable Africa

Dr Adesina says Africa can offer enormous economic potential and growth, as it’s open to all investors from around the world.

He says there’s no better region to accelerate and boost foreign investments.

“In 2018, 2019 and 2022, in those three years, we were able to attract investment commitments to Africa amounting to $110bn dollars. That is incredible. In 2018, when we started the campaign to attract investors, we got $38.7bn in less than 72 hours. The following year, we did $40.1bn in less than 72 hours as well.”

During his visit to the UAE, Dr Adesina met Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Deputy Ruler of Dubai.

He also met Ahmed Saeed Al Calily, CEO and Chief Strategy and Risk Officer ofMubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment arm. They discussed potential investment partnership opportunities in Africa.

Dr Adesina further signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Abu Dhabi Fund for Development aimed at strengthening investment cooperation to drive sustainable socioeconomic development.

The president of the AfDB said that last week, the AfDB secured $32.8bn in investment commitments at the three-day Africa Investment Forum held online.

The largest investor interest, he said, was $15.6bn for the Lagos-Abidjan mega motorway, connecting West Africa's two major cities in Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

“So, that just tells you that Africa is back, given the areas where we were able to secure significant investment in infrastructure,” he said.

“We have over 500 investors from around the world. So, all that to say that Africa is bankable, when you look at the fundamentals of the population 1.3 billion people which will be same in 2050 will be bigger than China and India today.”

Updated: April 01, 2022, 8:57 AM