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Why Russia’s War in Ukraine Means a Hungrier World

A wheat harvest in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine in June. Before the war, Ukraine exported more grain than the entire European Union.

A wheat harvest in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine in June. Before the war, Ukraine exported more grain than the entire European Union.

Photographer: Julia Kochetova/Bloomberg
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The surge in food prices that followed the outbreak of war in Ukraine underlined the country’s pivotal role in feeding the planet. By disrupting exports of Ukrainian wheat, corn, barley and oilseeds, Russia’s invasion has stoked fears of a hunger crisis in poorer nations and contributed to a surge in inflation in the developed world. Ukraine made its first shipment of grain since Russia’s invasion after an agreement was reached in July to unblock Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, but challenges remain before exports can be boosted to anywhere near pre-war levels. 

Europe’s second-largest country by area, Ukraine’s level plains of dark, rich soil are ideal for farming. Cheap food from Ukraine has helped to shape the course of European history, feeding the populations of fast-growing industrial cities in the 19th century and sustaining the vast Soviet Union through decades of isolation. Before the war, Ukraine exported more grain than the entire European Union and supplied about half of globally traded sunflower seeds and oil. More than 30 countries that are net importers of wheat rely on Russia and Ukraine for over 30% of their wheat import needs.