This post is Part II of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The first key aspect of food security is food production, or put another way, is enough food being produced or supplied to meet human needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.
Violent conflict puts the entire food supply chain at risk. The immediate destruction or occupation of land and storage facilities can reduce the amount of land that is farmed and the amount of food crops harvested. The effects, though, are complex, as research into the recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq has found, since militaries can and do turn some of their energy to cultivating occupied land while local farmers also increase their production (or try to) to meet growing need.
Far more significant than control or destruction of land are the impacts on labor and inputs. Are there enough people to work a farm, and does the farm have enough supplies to keep operating? As people flee their homes in search of safety, farms are often left fallow, crops are left unharvested and livestock are left untended and vulnerable to death or theft, as has been the case in Nigeria, for example, amid the violence of the Fulani militia. Conflict can also make it hard for farmers to get shipments in or out, so obtaining seeds, new animals, machinery and other necessary supplies gets difficult and expensive, if not impossible.
This is a huge problem when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine. It’s no exaggeration to call Ukraine “the breadbasket of Europe.” Agriculture is about 9% of the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and Ukraine is a leading producer of wheat, corn, barley, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and soybeans. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide more than 30% of the world’s cereal supplies. These cereals are essential staples for many countries around the world that rely on Ukraine’s exports – exports that are now at severe risk. As Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has pointed out, some cereal crops in Ukraine will be ready for harvest in June. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater risk that these crops won’t be harvested or shipped later this year.
That extends the crisis far beyond the borders of either Ukraine or Russia. Many of the countries dependent on importing Ukrainian grains do so because their own production can’t meet their needs. Some of these counties, such as Yemen (which imports about 700,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat each year), are already facing their own food crises. A shock like this could make famine more likely. On the other hand, because of our interconnected global food system and the widespread concern about the situation in Ukraine, we may see other producers step up to help fill the gaps through increased exports and reduced trade barriers. This, of course, doesn’t avoid other problems, as we’ll see in the next post on food access.
 “Cereals” includes a wide variety of grains used for foods, such as rye, barley, wheat, sorghum, maize or rice.