Ukraine and potential global food crises: Ramifications for peace

Programme Manager Armend Bekaj reflects on how can we can cope with the food crises that fuel conflict around the world.

Every day when we see the headlines, we learn about the precarious state of our planet. A core part of my job is to work with the International Training on Dialogue and Mediation (ITDM) Alumni Network. Our community, mostly from the global south, brings together passionate mediators, peacebuilders and so much more. We do research, practice and develop important policy in the field, often backing this up with advocacy and the implementation of much needed development interventions.

In that vein, there was a collective call to talk about the ongoing Russian aggression and the war in Ukraine. Here we are, all around the world seeing how our economies, communities and families experience increasing concern about the growing challenges to global food security. It was perhaps with shock that we have to understand how dependent the world is on the Ukrainian grain production. The blockage on the sale and distribution of this vital staple left a considerable number of countries, particularly in the global south prone to worsening social and economic vulnerabilities. This of course raised a collective worry, not only for our network, but all those facing a potential food crisis. Food shortages and insecurities can fuel the potential for social unrest increases, which then may have a detrimental effect on peace and peacebuilding initiatives.

What do we do? Well, in true academic style we reach out to our network and create space to talk about the situation which led to the organisation of an online seminar jointly hosted by the Department of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University and the Foundation. Our experience raises key issues to consider. Firstly, it is already estimated that if the Russia and Ukraine war continues, the grain supplies from there may face interruptions leaving hundreds of millions vulnerable to extreme poverty and starvation. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, African countries could be hit especially hard by wheat and fertilizer shortages. In the 81 countries where the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) works, acute hunger is projected to increase by an additional 47 million people, from 276 million to 323 million as a result of the consequences of interrupted supplies. In a speech on the ‘unprecedented global hunger crisis’ in June, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised that, while essential, humanitarian support was not enough, because ‘this is not just a food crisis’.

How do we cope? There needs to be a coordinated multilateral approach with multidimensional solutions.

Summary from the Foundation’s online seminar

The crisis is already being felt on the ground, as reported by various NGOs and humanitarian agencies. Also, as the array of challenges and potential conflicts arising from the war in Ukraine and the related food crisis are amplified, the ramifications for peacebuilding initiatives may be varied and long-term. Together with the Department of Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University, the Foundation hosted an online seminar in late September, inviting members of its Alumni Network on Dialogue and Mediation to present and discuss on this topic and share perspectives from diverse contexts.

The first presentation on the implications for food security and social unrest was delivered by Ida Rudolfsen, a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). By focusing on Africa,  Ida made the argument that the Ukraine is having a drastic impact on food prices, which may have a severe impact on vulnerable countries that looks different depending on underlying conditions. In contexts that have been experiencing long-lasting conflict that are dependent on food through aid distribution the biggest risk is starvation and famine. In middle income countries that are more import dependent and have large food subsidy programmes, increased food prices risk, leading to various forms of social unrest, with the potential to escalate. Moreover, increased food prices may exacerbate inequalities and deepen social grievances. That is why it is important that, as a way of counteracting and preventing such crises, multilateral efforts ought to be undertaken to make the global food distribution system more efficient and streamlined.

In addition, the seminar heard from Alumni Network members on how the Ukraine war is being felt at their country level. Indika Perera, Attorney at Law from Sri Lanka, was one of those speakers. ‘The food crisis will add additional pressure on the already difficult situations facing women, children and the vulnerable communities. The food crisis would add insult to the injury. This may exacerbate and multiply existing community tensions having negative effects on existing trust and peacebuilding measures’, stated Indika.

Salma Malik, Assistant Professor at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad pointed out that in Pakistan, in addition to the domestic instability being caused by food and fuel shortages resulting from the war and resulting sanctions imposed against Moscow, the total shift in focus by the international community towards Ukraine and away from other ongoing conflict and humanitarian situations, including Afghanistan, is causing serious stress and concern.

Richard Kananga, a conflict management specialist from Rwanda, confirmed that the Ukraine war has led to an increase of prices on fuel and other oil products, which has also impacted on food shortage in Africa in general. ‘With ongoing other crises like climate change and wars in different parts of Africa, the food crisis is worsening the situation. The effects of such a situation include an increase of gender-based violence in different communities, forced marriages, internal conflicts (et’c).’ stated Richard during his presentation.

During the seminar participants were largely in agreement that in order to prevent food shortages and social crises emanating as a result of them, concerted multilateral efforts need to be undertaken, including support to local civil society that are promoting dialogue to counter fear, potential mobilisation for violence and to generate common solutions. It was also deemed important that the voices of actors at the country level should be listened to more carefully by the UN and other international organisations that bear a large responsibility to do all in their remit to counteract global food crises.

Armend Bekaj By Armend Bekaj

About Armend Bekaj

Armend Bekaj is a Programme Manager in the Foundations’ Peacebuilding thematic area, focusing on the International Training on Dialogue and Mediation course. His expertise is in the nexus between peace, conflict and democratisation studies and with experience from International IDEA, the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as the Berghof Foundation.

Bekaj holds a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Sheffield and a Masters in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford, England and is also a Researcher at Uppsala University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Research.