• Some countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia usually get 75% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, the World Bank says.
  • Lower-income countries could see “increased hunger and food insecurity” as a result of Russia's invasion of its neighbour.
  • Countries with the biggest trade links to Russia and Ukraine face potential economic impacts.

The war in Ukraine will make it harder for low- and middle-income countries to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, the World Bank is warning.

The conflict is taking a huge toll on the people of Ukraine, as well as on the country’s economy. But there are also significant consequences for millions of other people around the world.

Economies with strong trade, financial and migration links to Russia and Ukraine could suffer “the greatest immediate harm”, the World Bank says.

Countries that rely heavily on Russia and Ukraine for food will also feel the impact. These include “a handful of economies” in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia that get 75% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, the bank says.

Food

What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.

Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.

With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.

Learn more about Innovation with a Purpose's impact and contact us to see how you can get involved.

Food trade disruption

The biggest risk is possible disruption to the production or transportation of grains and seeds from Russia and Ukraine.

Alongside higher prices, this could cause “increased hunger and food insecurity” in lower-income countries, the World Bank warns.

This World Bank chart shows Ukraine’s share of global exports for products including foodstuffs, such as seed oil, corn and wheat. For seed oil, it accounts for more than 40% of all exports.

A chart showing potential shockwaves for global trade
Developing countries that rely heavily on food exports from Russia and Ukraine could take longer to recover from the pandemic.
Image: World Bank

This reflects Ukraine’s status as the world’s biggest exporter of sunflower oil. The biggest markets for sunflower oil include India, China, Turkey and the Netherlands according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a data visualization platform.

More than 13% of global corn exports and over 5% of wheat exports also come from Ukraine.

Russia’s food and energy exports

Russia accounts for 18% of the world’s wheat exports and 14% of fertilizers. It’s also a “major force” in the market for energy and metals, the World Bank says.

The country controls a quarter of the world’s natural gas exports, 18% of coal exports, 14% of platinum shipments and 11% of crude oil exports.

Oil prices have more than doubled in the past six months, and if this continues it will cut rates of economic growth by 20-50% in countries such as South Africa, Turkey, China and Indonesia, the World Bank estimates.

Tackling the food crisis

There are three main ways to tackle the food crisis, researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute wrote in an article for the World Economic Forum.

These include other major grain producing countries boosting their exports – for example by releasing stocks. Other major oil producers also need to increase supplies to help lower fuel, fertilizer and shipping costs, they say.

And in the interim, governments need to protect their people by offering food or financial aid.

The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global food and energy supplies is also discussed in a podcast for Radio Davos, the Forum's podcasting platform.

“The difficulty here is Ukraine grows enough food to feed 400 million people on planet Earth,” David Beasley, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme tells the show. “So when the farmers on the battlefields aren't planting or aren't harvesting, what impact do you think that's going to have?”