It Begins – Bangladesh Fears Famine as India cuts Wheat Exports
Bengali officials met with Russian counterparts last week to discuss an emergency trade deal after India cut wheat exports in a desperate attempt to curb inflation at home.
Bangladesh imports roughly 7 million tons of wheat per year and more than 60% of that comes from India. “We’ll initially seek at least 200,000 tons of wheat from Russia,” said an official with Bangladesh’s food ministry.
Faced with a potential famine, Bangladesh may have no choice but to violate the West’s sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. Bangladesh turned to Russia for wheat only after other suppliers increased costs by more than $60 per ton. With inflation reaching an eight-year high and wheat stocks at their lowest rate in more than three years, Bangladesh is unable to financially compete with wealthier nations on basic staples.
“There are many countries who can supply wheat to Bangladesh, but key issue is price,” notes a global trading firm based in New Delhi. “Russia can offer discount over global prices.”
With Russia interrupting wheat exports from Ukraine, African nations like Somalia are in an even more vulnerable position.
The price of food in Somalia has nearly doubled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cost of fertilizer is up 300%. The nation is also struggling with water shortages after four failed rainy seasons.
“The people I met [in Somalia] are living from hand to mouth,” laments Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “They are living from goats and sheep and camels that have died from thirst and from drought.”
According to the UN, up to 13 million people in Somalia – including 1.5 million children younger than age 5 – are faced with severe hunger.
“We expect that 366,000 of [these children] may not survive through the end of September of this year,” warns Adam Abdelmoula, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “That is catastrophic. That is famine situation. That number is bound to increase unless…we are able to scale up our response plan in a very, very major way.”
Desperate to prevent mass famine in Africa, the UK has offered to help move grain safety from Ukraine to nations like Somalia, which relied on Ukraine for up to 90% of its wheat.
Separately, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is working on a proposal to help alleviate food crises by improving transparency and easing restricting in regards to the movement of goods between nations. The WTO has also asked its member states to pledge not to restrict exports to the World Food Program (WFP).
WTO member states backed both proposals with the exception of Egypt, India, and Sri Lanka, all of which argued they should not be forced to export food while they suffer from food, water, and economic crises at home.
“In theory, Egypt can agree to the WTO agreement not to place restrictions on food exports, but we cannot know for sure whether Egypt will be able to implement the contents of this agreement, especially if the situation worsens in the near future in terms of food shortages and the global situation, and if the Russian-Ukrainian war degenerates,” explained Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University. “ This may threaten an exacerbation of the global food crisis and a consequent rise in global prices,” he said
Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, continues to claim that the food crises outlined above are a direct result of sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West and not by its activities in Ukraine.