Famine as a weapon: The current figures highlight the frightening situation. According to Welthungerhilfe, despite the resolutions of the G7 summit on food security, 811 million people worldwide are acutely threatened by hunger, and around two billion suffer from malnutrition. At the same time, a good 100 million people are fleeing. The situation is worst on our neighboring continent, Africa.
“Africa is helplessly at the mercy of the situation,” said African Union (AU) President Macky Sall in early June after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Sall called on the government in Kyiv to remove the mines that the Ukrainian military had laid in the Black Sea to protect against Russian attacks.
According to the AU chief, sanctions and mines prevented the export of millions of tons of grain from Ukraine – even though these tons are urgently needed in Africa to avoid famine and astronomically rising grain prices. That was in the spirit of Russia, which has probably already sent the first ships to Africa with wheat stolen from Ukrainian silos.
In doing so, Sall, who is also head of state in Senegal, follows the Kremlin chief’s narrative and at the same time makes it clear how unsuccessful Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent visit to Dakar was. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, Africa is at risk of falling into a “trap” from the man who invaded Ukraine and is using the wheat shortage as a weapon to stir up sentiment against Western-imposed sanctions.
In March, Senegal, like 16 other African countries, abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Eight other countries did not even take part in the vote. The smell of colonial rule still clings to the countries of the West and especially to the Europeans. Russia and China, on the other hand, still have many friends among the old African freedom fighters and their descendants.
Wheat as a weapon – that creates enormous problems. So far, Russia and Ukraine have supplied almost half of the wheat that Africa needs, around 50 million tons a year. According to the African Development Bank, prices have already risen by 60 percent to almost 350 euros per tonne, payable in currencies of which African countries have little. While civilians are dying in the Russian bombing raids in Ukraine and tens of thousands of soldiers have already been killed on both sides, new famines are looming in Africa.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the countries in the Horn of Africa, i.e. Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia, are suffering from droughts of almost biblical proportions and crop failures – countries in which there has been little or no rain for four years .
Can Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mediate in the conflict over the blockade of Ukrainian ports? doubts are warranted. Turkey is almost as dependent on Russian wheat as Germany is on Putin’s gas. Perhaps the United Nations can mediate successfully. The West may also have to help with money, organize donor conferences and wheat aid deliveries.
Nobody knows how long the Russian war of aggression will last. However, we know from the past how quickly hunger catastrophes trigger new refugee movements in the direction of Europe – and with them, not infrequently, political tremors as well. Let’s remember: The “Arab Spring” began in Tunisia in December 2010 with protests against rising food prices before throwing an entire region into turmoil.
However, the looming famines are more than a supply chain problem triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Rather, the crises show, as if under a magnifying glass, a much more fundamental emergency: the entire continent of Africa is boarded by the large agricultural exporters Russia, Ukraine, USA and Canada.
Europe has also played its part in this dependency. Just one example: when Europe’s farmers produced a mountain of wheat in the 1980s thanks to generous subsidies from Brussels, France found markets in its former colonies. German peasants followed closely.
The cheap wheat pushed out the African millet, the baguette became the new lifestyle. No more chance for the traditional millet, which is at least as nutritious. In Senegal, for example, the per capita consumption of millet has since fallen from 80 kilos a year to just 25 kilos, while the consumption of wheat has risen from 10 to 40 kilos.
No continent is as badly affected by droughts and climate change as Africa. There is no other continent with such a population growth: while only 240 million people lived between Cape Town and Cairo in 1950, today there are already 1.3 billion. In 2050, the United Nations estimates there will be 4.5 billion, half the world’s population, double the number in India, China, the US and Europe combined.
How are they to be satisfied? Experts from non-governmental organizations such as “Brot für die Welt” recommend first reactivating old, small-scale agricultural structures and supplying farmers with modern seed, i.e. with breeds for traditional staple foods such as millet or cassava, which are also more resistant to heat and drought than wheat.
They advise using green genetic engineering, for example, to develop seeds that are also more resistant to diseases and pests in order to reduce the use of pesticides or herbicides. But that takes courage. Because green genetic engineering is controversial in large parts of the European public.
In order to increase the proportion of self-sufficiency in the long term, larger-scale cultivation structures must also be developed for the production of staple foods. Basically, there is enough land in Africa that can be used for agriculture. Even with wheat. What is missing are know-how, modern technology and irrigation systems. In addition, there is not enough capital to develop Africa’s agriculture for the needs of the future.
Germany and the European Union have all the capabilities for a nutritional partnership with Africa: agricultural science, agricultural technology and agrochemistry could make decisive contributions if business and politics only wanted to. Such a partnership is not in the interest of all of us, but is also long overdue.