• Home
  • Insights
  • The impact of the Ukraine War on South Africa's food system

The impact of the Ukraine War on South Africa's food system

Tamsin Faragher

Wars, even wars that are far away, will always affect those who are most vulnerable. In this piece, Tamsin Faragher explains how a distant conflict could lead to a food security crisis at home.

When I was 14 - I started attending the End Conscription Campaign meetings. Being a girl, there was zero chance I'd be called up - which in the apartheid years was what happened to young, white men after completing high school. Meetings were held in the Rosebank Methodist Church, mostly attended by revered older people - and me. Conscription ended in the early 1990s and the organisation disbanded, but I'm proud to have participated in taking a stand against unjust wars and a corrupt political system. The thought of people dying for political, racist ideology was, and still is, horrific.

The war in the Ukraine is very far away from us in Cape Town. Or rather, it may seem very far away, but in reality it will invade our homes via the news and empty our pantries when food prices increase and food becomes scarce. It may not be this extreme, but it may -- we have no idea.

I wrote an email to our Food Systems Working Group earlier today highlighting why South Africans should be very interested in what is happening in the Ukraine. Dr Dirk Troskie from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture has suggested that these are some of the reasons.

South Africa is a net importer of wheat (about 50% of our consumption) and the Ukraine is one of the main sources of our wheat imports, particularly from the Eastern part of the country. Wheat is a winter crop and the spring harvest is currently in the fields. 

Questions that must be considered:

  • How will the war disrupt agricultural production and value chains?
  • Will the war destroy this crop?
  • Will the infrastructure (silos, roads, bridges, railways, etc.) be destroyed? 
  • How long will the war last and what will the situation be during the (Northern Hemisphere) spring harvest time?
  • Will Ukraine still exist or will it be part of Russia at that stage?
  • Will farmers be able to harvest and market their products via existing channels? 
  • Will existing trade agreements be affected?

Dr Troskie points out that the answers to these questions will have an impact on the wheat harvest from the Ukraine and in this way influence the price of wheat. Hence, the matter may not only be the availability of wheat, but also the price of wheat. With bread and pasta being a staple for a large segment of our most vulnerable people (particularly in the Western Cape) and a significant component of school (and other) feeding schemes, the change in price may have a major impact on food inflation for those communities.

South Africa is furthermore part of BRICS and a number of South Africans have a close historical affinity with Russia. As countries rally behind the Ukraine, will South Africa follow the West’s lead and introduce sanctions? What would the impact of sanctions be? Are there possible unintended consequences from implementing sanctions, particularly in relation to other trading partners?

Before implementing sanctions on Russia, Dr Troskie cautions that there is a need to understand how these sanctions will disrupt trade and how it will affect consumer spending in Russia. Edible fruit makes up 58% of South Africa’s exports to the Russian Federation, preparations of vegetables and fruit (i.e. canned fruit) 3,4% and wine 2,9%. We have to wonder if we will be able to continue to export these products and will Russian consumers be able to afford our products.

It is also important to note that a shortage of oil will not only increase the price of diesel (and hence domestic) production and transport cost for all farmed products, but nitrogen is a very important side-product of the oil refining process. It follows that a shortage of oil will inevitably also have an impact on the availability and cost of fertilizer. 

The war in the Ukraine may well cause food inflation and scarcity, which is of interest to Capetonians because it may significantly affect their ability to eat a healthy diet - and to thrive.

Tamsin Faragher

Tamsin is a built environment specialist (landscape architect) with experience both locally (South Africa) and internationally (London, Dubai and Abu Dhabi). She has worked across disciplines in the private and public sector (provincial and local government) including planning, design, implementation, infrastructure planning, environmental planning and policy.

Other resources

Related articles

NGOs must be part and parcel of achieving global SDGs
Social impact organisations’ engagement with the UN’s sustainable development goals is critical since their agendas are ultimately the same. While the Covid-19 pandemic rages, we often focus all our attention on surviving the day-to-day struggles while neglecting crucial global long-term...
Covid-19 and the yearning for a collective narrative
Over the past few weeks, I’ve come across three different reports observing that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic does not follow our expectations for how a story should play out. All three suggest that this narrative failure partly explains the difficulty in mounting a unified public response...
We need to rethink how the non-profit sector is financed
Why should non-profit organisations be expected to operate any differently to private businesses when it comes to covering overheads? Increasingly, philanthropic funders are building into their grants a cushion for funding operating expenses – and this is the right way to go. In 2013 a new TED t...
Narrative Emergency Kit: How should we prepare for the next crisis?
Watching tragedy unfold in Ukraine, I have been thinking about the powerful, rapid, and often unexpected impact that major, shocking events can have on narratives that underpin our understanding of the world. While narrative and culture change work tends to take years, events have the power t...
What is UX design and why is it important for your nonprofit?
UX means “user experience” and refers to designing and creating products with the user in mind. With nonprofits, this can refer to how a user experiences your organisation via your website. For example, let’s imagine that someone hears about your organisation through a social media post, and the...
Funding crisis in North West as Social Development department fails to pay subsidies
One organisation has already had to close three offices Many non-profit organisations say they are battling to keep their doors open, and some have been forced to close due to non-payment by the North West Department of Social Development. This is affecting the livelihoods of staff and the se...
Good governance, transparency and accountability are thin on the ground in South Africa – civil society must lead the way
Once an organisation receives public benefit status and does not pay tax on its income, how transparent should the public expect it to be? Contrary to the US, in South Africa people prefer to undertake their philanthropy under the radar. There is currently a major debate about philanthropic acco...
Half of non-profit organisations are failing to comply with the law
Department of Social Development claims it is deregistering non-compliant organisations. The Department of Social Development (DSD) says only half the more than 250,000 registered non-profit organisations are compliant with legal requirements. In a statement, the Department said there had ...
What do we mean by effective storytelling? Letting go of magic bullets
How do we tell more effective stories? This is a central question for us at IRIS, a new collaborative hub that brings together funders, storytellers and activists. It’s something I have been interested in since the early days of my career, in radio current affairs in South Africa in the ninet...
NPOs must be part of rebuilding SA
Nonprofit organisations have a crucial role to play in service delivery, given the lack of government capacity Despite still being in the thick of the pandemic and its social impact, many will undoubtedly agree that our efforts should be forward looking and focused on exploring ways to help pick...

© All rights reserved. 

Back to Top