How has Africa been affected by the growing food crisis sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine? The war has affected the supply of key commodities such as wheat and sunflower oil, and higher energy costs are affecting food systems everywhere, from transportation to fertilizers. Many African countries, already grappling with challenges such as climate change, drought, hunger and underdeveloped markets, are especially vulnerable as the full impacts of the Ukraine War make themselves felt.

In this podcast we hear from three experts, their analysis of the situation, and their solutions - both to the immediate challenge and to making Africa's food system more resilient in the face of climate change and conflict.


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“It could be tens of millions, it could be hundreds of millions affected. That’s because the impacts [of the crisis in Ukraine] are so insidious. It’s about the price of fertilizer: most farmers use fertilizers. It’s about the price of energy: we need energy to produce agriculture wherever we are in the world. It’s about the price of money, and most farmers and most food producers, most food manufacturers and processors, they need to borrow money. So it’s really affecting everyone.”

– Lawrence Haddad, FOLU Ambassador and Executive Director, GAIN


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“[Africa] has a lot to lose. We’ve already made significant gains with regards to feeding ourselves. That has led to some gains in our socio-economic situation. So going backwards means that our social, economic and political stability could be at risk, and our ability to respond to further shocks that are likely to happen as a result of climate change, environmental degradation and so forth, are likely to push Africa to a worse situation than it is currently.”

– Assan Ngombe, The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)


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“I believe that Africa is well positioned to transform our landscape. We’re naturally endowed for agricultural excellence and we have indigenous grains which are fantastic substitutes for wheat: teff in Ethiopia; in Nigeria you have cassava. Across the continent you have different indigenous, often neglected crops that need to be invested in, to make sure that we are not exposed in future to any of these kind of concentration crisis.”

– Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, FOLU Ambassador and Co-founder Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition

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Nicholas Walton  00:05
Hello and welcome to WRI's Big Ideas Into Action podcast with me Nicolas Walton. In this episode we take a look at how Africa is affected by the growing food crisis that's been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. 

Lawrence Haddad  00:18
It's about the price of fertilizer. It's about the price of energy. It's about the price of money. So it's really affecting everyone.

Nicholas Walton  00:25
But our focus is also on solutions, on how we can build longer term resilience in Africa's food system. 

Ndidi Nwuneli  00:32
This is a time for Africa to rise up, solve its own problems and even teach the world some critical lessons on how we are surviving and how we're going to thrive.

Antonio Guterres  00:43
We are now facing a perfect storm that threatens to devastate the economies of many developing countries.

Nicholas Walton  00:52
In April, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke about the wider impact of the war in Ukraine.

Antonio Guterres  00:59
The imp act of the war is global and systemic. As many as 1.7 billion people, one third of whom are already living in poverty, are now highly exposed to disruptions in food, energy and finance systems that are triggering increases in poverty and hunger. Certainly six countries count on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries of the world. And prices were already on the rise. But the war has made a bad situation far worse.

Nicholas Walton  01:40
Antonio Gutierrez. To find out how much worse the situation was in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. My colleague Kalkidan Wondimu from the Food and Land Use Coalition visited one of the city's food markets. One of the people shopping at the market was Dawit. Dawit said that the price of cooking oil had tripled, while vegetables fruit and milk would double their previous price. He said the market sellers were blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the rises. Another shopper, Wondesen Kassaye, was there to buy supplies for his restaurant. He said that the shortages and the tripling in price of basics like palm oil and bred meant it was increasingly difficult for him to run his business. It's now clear that the warnings of food supply problems and price rises that we've been warned about for months are now showing up in markets across the African continent, just like the one in Addis. So what happens now, in particular, what can be done about the situatio? In this WRI podcasts, with the help of my Food and Land Use Coalition colleagues, we'll be hearing from three different experts. What's their analysis of the challenges? And importantly, what are the solutions? The first of these three experts is Assan Ngombe, who's based in Kenya, he's with AGRA which works across 11 African countries, and has a focus on food security and smallholder farmers,

Assan Ngombe  03:08
W e already have a great number of people who are food insecure. With the further impending shocks such as a Ukrainian war that is already affecting supply chains in both inputs markets, but as well as you know, trading partners across Europe, and there is likely to be a very dire situation that we could be experiencing in the next couple of years. Already, food prices have gone up. I mean, I live in Kenya, and we've seen a number of commodities already seeing food prices going up because of the changes that are happening in the supply chain with regard to fuel availability of raw materials, accessibility to processing equipment, etc, etc. With the fact that Africa has a huge import bill and a lot of his food when we think about wheat, particularly the interruptions that are on the horizon, now not too far off in horizon, likely to affect a whole lot of people.

Nicholas Walton  04:08
But you're arguing that this goes well beyond the immediate consumers of food. It's about the entire food supply chain in some countries, farmers, smallholder farmers and producers.

Assan Ngombe  04:19
That's correct. I mean, when you think about the producers, Africa's soil base has inherently or generally been very poor. We have very little nutrients in our soils. And the makeup of our soils has also been quite poor. It's not as rich as in other parts of the world. So our reliance on the soil health inputs such as fertilizers is critical for our food production in the medium term. A lot of the soils that we are rebuilding and building in Africa in terms of mixing it with inorganic fertilizers still requires a certain amount of inorganic fertilizers. And with disruptions in this, we are likely to face low yields, yet to come. We've made significant progress in how we've been applying fertilizer on the continent, we've gone really far with soil testing, identifying what's missing in our soils and applying only what it is that we need. But this fertilizers are mostly produced outside the continent. And even though we blend a lot of them on the continent, a good part of the raw materials to come from countries such as Russia, and you know, others out there, with the shortages that are likely to come up, already being faced globally, Africa has to struggle to get a fair share of this raw material in a highly competitive environment with other continents. So our producers will be affected in terms of how they produce and inputs that they have available to them to be able to produce to meet the needs of the continent.

Nicholas Walton  05:55
So how important is the lack of purchasing power in Africa supplies fall and prices rise?

Assan Ngombe  06:01
Well, I don't know whether the issue of poverty comes in so much we've seen in the past and give an example of the vaccine inequity that we had in the past where African countries were willing to buy the vaccines, but these were just not made available to them. And I foresee something similar that even though Africa will have the purchasing power to prioritize around this food systems, it may not be given the opportunity to buy. And I can imagine that markets out there or countries out there already securing future supply to some of these commodities that Africa needs. And we might just not have that opportunity to negotiate better deals with suppliers out there. So it's not so much the issue of poverty, I think we also need to have a global governance system that addresses this issue, that Africa is also seen and treated fairly and equally across the globe. 

Nicholas Walton  06:54
So what else needs to be done? 

Assan Ngombe  06:55
I think first and foremost, Africa needs to maximise in terms of what we have in terms of productivity. But also, we need to continue building coalitions and alliances with our partners across the oceans. For us to be able to tap into those markets, whether it's through our supply of whatever is produced in Africa, or indeed, as well as getting things from outside the continent, to help us in our production agenda. So we need to be a bit stronger in terms of building these alliances, we need to be able to produce as much as we can, trade amongst ourselves as countries on the continent, to be able to feed ourselves in a more equitable manner.

Nicholas Walton  07:40
And what's at stake if none of this happens? 

Assan Ngombe  07:42
Well I think we've got a lot to lose, we've already made significant gains with regards to feeding ourselves. That's number one. Number two, that has led to also some gains in our socio economic situation. So going backwards, means that our social economic political stability, could be at risk really. And our ability to respond to further shocks that are likely to happen as a result of climate change, environmental degradation, and so forth, are likely to push Africa even to a worse situation than it is currently, we really need to ramp up our own production system. Key to this is being able to trade amongst ourselves because there are pockets in Africa that produce more than others. And food is still a little bit of a difficult thing to move around the continent. The Africa free trade agreement that has been signed by a number if not all of the countries in the continent, is right step in this direction,

Nicholas Walton  08:42
Assan Ngombe of AGRA. You're listening to WRI's Big Ideas Into Action podcast, hearing about African solutions to the food crisis sparked by the Ukraine war. The second of our three voices looking at the crisis and finding solutions is based in Lagos, Nigeria, Ndidi Nwuneli of Sahel Consulting, Agriculture and Nutrition.

Ndidi Nwuneli  09:06
I believe that right now, it's an inflection point in the global food ecosystem. And Africa is obviously a key player in that ecosystem. And so we are experiencing the same three crisis that the rest of the world is experiencing. The conflict crisis, the climate crisis and the concentration crisis. And in the African context, what is quite unique is that many countries are exposed and even more exposed to climate. Seven out of 10 countries that are most exposed to climate risk are in Africa. In my own country, Nigeria, in northern Nigeria, there is a crisis at the moment, perpetuated by climate change, but also linked to Islamic fundamentalism. In Ethiopia, you also have that, South Sudan, so there are quite a few of those conflict related crises. And then in terms of the concentration crisis, we see the effects of some of our country's dependencies on other regions of the world for fertilizer, and for wheat. But this inflection point creates a wonderful opportunity for all players in the ecosystem to partner and really rise to the occasion, there's a sense of urgency. And the time is now for immediate action. I believe that Africa is well positioned to pivot and actually transform our landscape. And there are a number of interventions that we can take. When I think about our continent we're naturally endowed for agricultural excellence. And we have indigenous grains that are fantastic substitutes for wheat: teff in Ethiopia, in Nigeria, you have cassava. You have across the continent, different indigenous, often neglected crops that needs to be invested in to actually ensure that we are not exposed in future to any of these types of concentration crisis. And we're starting to see our research institutions invest in innovation, and commercialize this research for the private sector to take a leadership role. So that gives me a lot of hope,

Nicholas Walton  11:07
What's the role of sharing better data between producers, markets, countries, and so on?

Ndidi Nwuneli  11:13
I believe data is critical, especially as we think about the concept of shortages and abundance. And in many of our countries, you know, there's a lot of abundance, I mean, they are harvest that are going to waste: 40 to 60% of our fruits and vegetables go to waste, 20 to 30% of our grains go to waste. And there's tremendous opportunity to share data within Africa, to foster trade from one region to the other, especially in some countries that are facing droughts or shortages and other countries where they're having a bumper harvest. And a farmers don't know what to do with this harvest, and it's going to waste. But beyond the African context, there's also tremendous opportunity to share data across the world and to actually foster transparency and accountability, not just in terms of countries that are already closing their borders to export hoarding at this time, but also to large private trading companies that have silos, full of grain, and are taking advantage of the shortage to really hike up their prices and almost create an official shortage so they can maximise profits. And I think this is a time for all key stakeholders to share data and to ensure that we do good and do well. And I think for me, transparency and accountability is critical at this time.

Nicholas Walton  12:30
You mentioned local substitutes for crops like wheat. But what about ways to raise productivity without, for instance, relying so heavily on increasingly expensive other inputs such as fertilizers?

Ndidi Nwuneli  12:42
I believe that Africa can teach the world a lot when it even comes to regenerative agriculture, because we already understand the importance of mulching and leaving land fallow, and we do have enough land. And the value of organic fertilizer, and generating in our own country substitutes for chemical fertilizer. And I'm starting to see a lot more collaboration between research institutions, academics, the private sector and farmer groups to say what do we have in house that we can utilize to strengthen the soil health, but also increase the productivity of our farmers? We're also investing in a lot of indigenous seeds, and saying, What can we do in our context, to create a whole new seed system where our seeds are resistant to drought, to flooding and our seeds can adapt to climate change. The great news is that there is lots of interest in working within countries across our countries to share knowledge and to share information and through Sahel Consulting we're doing this in a few critical value chains such as cassava, yam and maize. And we're seeing great results,

Nicholas Walton  13:55
You sound optimistic that there are solutions. But beyond the immediate impact of the crisis in Ukraine, you're also talking about real short term threats to the African food system, such as climate change, conflict, and even lack of collaboration between governments and countries. It must be hard to be positive.

Ndidi Nwuneli  14:10
Well, I'm an eternal optimist. And you have to be an optimist if you work in the food system, because oftentimes, the indicators are very alarming. What gives me hope, is really the entrepreneurs on the ground who every day wake up with a new renewed zeal and a commitment to overcoming obstacles. Climate change is a huge crisis. And it's a crisis that's here to stay. It's not a short-term crisis. And so we have to adapt. And it's the entrepreneurs on the ground, the farmers that are most hit by climate change. And I see their commitment to learning to growing and to shifting because it affects them on a daily basis. I mean, just last year, we had five states in Nigeria under water. Harvest lost. This year, there has been sporadic rainfall, some places drought, some places, too much rain, a farmer is exposed on a daily basis. Even rising insecurity is linked to climate change as the Lake Chad dries up, nomadic communities are being forced down towards the south so they can have access to water for their cattle and grazing reserves and feed and fodder. So we see this every day. It's real to us. And what keeps me going. And what gives me hope is the resilience, the commitment, innovation, the commitment to learning and unlearning and the emerging partnerships we're starting to see in the ecosystem. But it's really an urgent time for all sorts of access, especially the political will from the highest levels of government to prioritise local organisations and to work with local organisations to solve their problem. This is not a time to parachute ideas from other parts of the world into the African continent. This is a time for Africa to rise up, solve its own problems and even teach the world some critical lessons on how we are surviving and how we're going to thrive into the future.

Nicholas Walton  16:07
Ndidi Nwuneli of Sahel Consulting. Finally, the third of our experts analysing the growing food crisis in Africa and outlining solutions is Lawrence Haddad of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. I asked him how many people might be impacted by the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Lawrence Haddad  16:25
No one really knows. It could be tens of millions, it could be hundreds of millions. That's because the impacts are so insidious, it's about the price of fertilizer. Most farmers use fertilizer. It's about the price of energy. We need energy to produce agriculture, wherever we are in the world. It's about the price of money, which is going up, interest rates are going up. And most farmers and most food producers, most food manufacturers, processors, they need to borrow money. So it's really affecting everyone. How many people will affect in terms of hunger? That's a really good question. My guess is that hunger went up by about 120 million due to COVID. I can imagine it's going to go up at least 60 million and maybe more because of this extra layer of conflict induced price shocks and supply shocks.

Nicholas Walton  17:15
We're about so the people most at risk? Is it in climate stress places like Eastern Africa, which is in its fourth year of drought? Or is it more broadly,

Lawrence Haddad  17:24
Wherever countries are stressed pre-invasion, basically. And so yeah, a bunch of countries are stressed because of climate. A bunch of countries are stressed because of COVID. Bunch of countries are stressed because of underinvestment in food systems in agriculture. One of the things that's really different about this crisis is if you look at the COVID shock and the global financial shock, and even the North Africa Middle East shock, the Arab Spring, there was healthy GDP growth the year before those shocks. Well, the year before this shock was negative GDP. So this is a shock on top of a pretty hollowed out system.

Nicholas Walton  18:00
So it's not just a question of pointing at the immediate situation in Ukraine, we're talking about systemic and growing vulnerabilities with Ukraine war acting as a bit of an accelerator?

Lawrence Haddad  18:10
I would agree with that. I mean, I think there are two dimensions. So the first is when the when the invasion was in day 20 or day 25, they were trying to trace the precise impacts of which country was consuming the most wheat that was previously exported from Ukraine and Russia. I think we're way past that now. We're into systemic shock. And I think the second thing is, it's been shock upon shock for the last really for the last 20 years. And I don't see any end to that because of the drumbeat of climate change in the background. It's making droughts and floods much more unpredictable and more extreme. 

Nicholas Walton  18:47
So the way you're talking, we need to be thinking about as much about systemic resilience as well as solutions to the immediate crisis triggered by the Ukraine war. So what should we be doing about systemic resilience?

Lawrence Haddad  18:58
Again, I agree, we need to be taking resilience a lot more seriously as a concept. The dumbed down version of resilience is diversity. So I'd like to see our food systems support greater diversity. And I'll tell you a bit what I mean by that. Diversity has a bit of a bad rap in a just in time world because it's kind of a second best solution. But we don't live in a first best world. So we need solutions that are fit for purpose. So what I mean by diversity is diversity in where we grow food. We shouldn't be so reliant on a few bread baskets around the world, we're very heavily reliant on five or six or seven, so called bread baskets around the world, Ukraine, Russia being one of them. The the second diversity is much more diverse about the types of foods we grow. Six or seven crops are responsible for 60 or 70% of all the calories we consume. We need to be encouraging much greater diversity of what is grown. There's a whole world of neglected indigenous crops out there that are cheap and available, highly nutritious, but for whatever reason not desirable, attractive or aspirational because of marketing, frankly. The third diversification we need is a greater diversification of energy sources used by food and agriculture. If you look at the latest UNEP statistics, and the last ones I've seen were 2019, the concentration of energy sources used by agriculture is increasing. In other words, agriculture is increasingly reliant on two or three sources of energy, and none of those are renewable. The fourth, diversity really has to be around diversity of diets, we know that the more diverse the diet is, the more likely it is to be healthy. And yet, we've got two weird, seemingly contradictory trends in diets, we've got the whole world converging on a Western diet, which is not terribly healthy, lots of ultra-processed foods, fast foods that are increasingly homogenous across the planet. That's the first worrying trend in sort of lack of diversity. And the second worrying trend is that even for the lowest income groups, there are kids in many parts of Africa and Asia, it's really about 80% of kids in in Africa and Asia, are consuming very, very minimally diverse diets, that if they're lucky, they're consuming sort of three bowls of porridge a day. They need some fish, they need some dairy products, they need fruits and vegetables and pulses and nuts. And they're not getting that.

Nicholas Walton  21:32
Can I just follow up on that and ask how this might come about? I mean, what are the levers that need to be pulled and who pulls them is it governments, they don't sound like natural things that are going to happen just through market mechanisms.

Lawrence Haddad  21:43
I think a lot of them have to be government led. So for example, governments spend a lot of money on agricultural research and development. But they pile it all into a few crops, so they could distribute their Ag R&D spends. And instead of trying to make rice or wheat or maize that's ever more productive and ever more resilient, get a better balance between vegetables, fruits and pulses that are also more productive and more resilient. Same with public procurement of food, you know, governments buy a quarter to a third of all the food in most countries for their safety nets, for their schools, for their hospitals, for their armies. There's no sort of attempt to purchase food that is more diverse, both in terms of biodiversity. But in terms of nutrition. I'd like to see governments and I'd like to see businesses experiment a lot more with the true value of food because the true value of food as a guiding principle, they take into account health externalities that are routinely ignored, they take into account environment, externalities that are routinely involved, ignored. It's a classic case of being a little bit more expensive in the short-term to avoid catastrophic losses in the medium and short term. 

Nicholas Walton  22:54
A short final question, then do you think that the more intense focus on the global food system thanks to the crisis sparked by the Ukraine war is going to make it more likely that these solutions are taken seriously,

Lawrence Haddad  23:06
I think the jury's out, it could go either way go, we could go, we could sort of double down on the existing system and build back better, I don't like build back better, because it kind of implies that we don't really transform the system, we just kind of reconstruct it, but in a slightly better way. I like building forward better, it frames it differently. It says rather than doubling down on things that got us here in the first place, let's really make a short-term response that also is important for the medium term. So for example, one could imagine spending a lot more money on cheaper fossil fuels, because gas and petrol is so expensive, natural gas, and petrol is so expensive. Let's go for coal. And well, the other way of doing it was to be less, let's go for renewables really big time. Another example is let's give out lots of free school meals to get families through the current crisis. And that's, of course, really important. But you can design school meals in a way that they stimulate the local economy. They're linked to farmers' markets, they're linked to food banks, they're linked to nutritional literacy of kids. There's ways of addressing the short-term that's also addressed the short term. I'm worried that because that requires a little bit more effort. And because politicians need to be performative with their voters that they will go for the easy, short-term solutions that are sort of ambivalent or or ignorant of the medium term consequences.

Nicholas Walton  24:29
And that was Lawrence Haddad of GAIN, ending this edition of WRI Big Ideas Into Action podcast. If you want to find out more about the issues raised here and the solutions, you can go to or to, where you'll be able to find a recent comprehensive report on how to create a sustainable food future. A few weeks ago, we also produced a podcast on how the food crisis impacts from the Ukraine war were increasing vulnerability to conflict, with our colleagues from the Water Peace and Security Partnership. You can find that at where of course you can dig out any of our back catalogue looking at everything from sustainable cities to food waste. I'm Nicholas Walton. Thanks for listening and goodbye.