The Ukrainian War: Exposing Arab Food Security

Russia and Ukraine are among the largest food exporters, and the war between them stopped the export of large quantities of it. Several Arab countries were among the main victims because their food security was exposed to shocks before, and they failed to provide alternatives to prevent them.

 Russia and Ukraine occupy a prominent position in the world in the export of foodstuffs, especially cereals (1) . The war between them led to the cessation of exports, especially from the Ukrainian side, and the supply decreased. This situation was reflected in the Arab countries that depend on Ukraine to satisfy their needs, as the prices of the main foodstuffs increased. This resulted in social and sometimes political repercussions, the severity of which differed from one country to another. Thus, food security declined in several countries such as Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Mauritania, Egypt and Iraq. However, the Russo-Ukrainian war is not the main reason for this retreat. But it is undoubtedly heavier than the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Different levels of food security

Food security is a term given to a situation that meets four conditions: The first condition: the sufficiency of food for local consumption. Whether these materials come from local production or from abroad in the form of imports and in the form of aid. The second condition : the financial ability of individuals to obtain these materials. And the third condition: stability in meeting local demand in terms of time. The fourth condition: the materials are suitable for human consumption without endangering health.

Therefore, food security should not be confused with self-sufficiency, despite the close relationship between the two cases. Self-sufficiency means food independence, while imports and foreign aid contribute to food security. Food security will also decline if the prices of materials rise, while self-sufficiency may be achieved by encouraging local products only by raising their prices.

The Russian-Ukrainian war affected Arab food security in two ways:

The first aspect is related to the first condition referred to above; Most of the Arab countries depend on Ukraine and Russia to import foodstuffs, especially the main ones, such as wheat, because their prices are cheaper compared to similar materials exported by other countries. The suffering increases with the higher the dependence rate; The crisis in Tunisia, for example, stems from the fact that Ukrainian and Russian grains were contributing to meeting 60% of the demand.

The second aspect relates to the second condition; Because of this war, the supply of foodstuffs fell globally as Ukraine stopped exporting. Therefore, food prices, especially cereals, increased around the world: the price of a ton of wheat went from $285, on February 18, 2022 (before the war), to $426, on April 13, 2022, an increase of 49%. The price of a ton of corn increased during this period from $271 to $378, or 39%.

Thus, food prices rose in Arab countries, and the standard of living fell, especially in poor countries such as Yemen, which is internationally classified among the least developed countries in the world.

Yemen annually imports two million tons of grain from Russia and Ukraine, which is equivalent to half the amount necessary for consumption. The Russo-Ukrainian war led not only to the loss of this quantity, but also to the difficulty of finding other alternative countries that would sell food at a low price. This war came to add to the suffering of Yemenis who have been fighting a devastating war for seven years.

The rise in the prices of basic foodstuffs led to an increase in the number of poor people and aggravated the famine crisis. According to the latest international reports, 17.4 million Yemenis need food aid, i.e. more than half of the population, and the number is increasing at a rate of more than one million people annually (2) .

On the other hand, the Russian-Ukrainian war did not result in food shortages for other countries such as the UAE and Qatar, but rather led to an improvement in their financial situation.

Therefore, the Arab countries can be divided in terms of the degree of their impact on this war into two groups:

The first group: the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council; As the Russian-Ukrainian war led to a rise in oil prices, the revenues of these countries increased significantly. This high revenue easily sucked up its food imports.

This group also differs from other oil-producing countries (Libya and Iraq) because there are no violent internal conflicts in them. Add to this the high purchasing power of Gulf nationals resulting from their individual incomes. The per capita income in Saudi Arabia amounted to 20 thousand dollars, in the Emirates 36 thousand dollars, and in Qatar 50 thousand dollars, compared to 4 thousand dollars in Iraq and 3 thousand dollars in each of Algeria and Libya (3) . The higher the income, the lower the negative effect of inflation.

The second group: non-Gulf Arab countries; Its food security has been affected by the Russian-Ukrainian war to varying degrees due to several factors: the agricultural factor that shows the difference in suffering between Libya and Morocco, the demographic factor that differentiates Egypt and Jordan, and the oil factor that shows the difference between Iraq and Lebanon.

On this basis, this study will focus on three countries from the second group that are completely different in several respects: Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. But they have a common denominator, which is the massive rise in food prices in the recent period, which has severely affected the standard of living of citizens.

The crisis in Iraq

Food prices have skyrocketed in a short period of time; For example, the price of edible oil doubled in just two months.

This situation resulted from the combination of four factors:

The first factor: a decline in local production in 2021. It concerns various types of cereals, oils, meat, vegetables and fruits.

In fact, the improvement in production in 2020 resulted from the Corona epidemic, which negatively affected the international transport movement, and led to a decline in the country’s financial ability to import due to the deterioration of oil revenues. So, imports fell, which encouraged Iraqi farmers to increase their production, and the popular movement played a prominent role in developing the national feeling of the need to favor local agricultural production.

Recently, production has returned to decline due to the recovery of international transportation and the improvement of financial capacity; The import of a large number of commodities that Iraqi products are not able to compete with has increased. The level of the Tigris and Euphrates also decreased under the influence of the water policy of Iran and Turkey. In addition, it was not possible to import Ukrainian chemical fertilizers, on which Iraq relies heavily.

Iraq produces four million tons of wheat per year, while its consumption reaches six million tons (4) , knowing that the local production of other foodstuffs covers only a quarter of domestic consumption.

The second factor: the Russian-Ukrainian war; It contributed to the rise in food prices due to Iraq’s dependence on imports of Ukrainian agricultural commodities, which were suspended.

However, it is difficult to determine the degree of this dependence due to the contradiction of the statistical data. According to Iraqi statistics (5) , the total imports from Ukraine amounted to 1542 million dollars, or 11% of the total Iraqi imports. Thus, Ukraine ranks third in Iraqi imports after China and South Korea, while Ukrainian sources estimate its merchandise exports to Iraq at only $597 million (6) .

This huge difference in estimation can be explained by the presence of goods entering Iraq as being of Ukrainian origin, but in fact produced in another country. On the other hand, there is smuggling of Ukrainian goods to Iraq, that is, they do not enter the accounts of the Ukrainian customs, and administrative corruption in the two countries allows this and that.

At least in 2021, Iraq imported edible oils and meat from Ukraine in the amount of $315 million; Thus, it occupies the first Arab rank. It also imported from Ukraine various types of grain, especially wheat, with an amount of 118 million dollars (7) .

The third factor: high domestic demand; The Russian-Ukrainian war effectively contributed to increasing the storage of food commodities by consumers in anticipation of supply shortages and by merchants to increase their profits, and demand increased as a result of the increase in individual consumption during the month of Ramadan.

The fourth factor: On December 19, 2020, the Ministry of Finance decided to change the par value from 1180 dinars to the dollar to 1480 dinars to the dollar, or 22.6%.

The interaction of these factors led to a huge rise in the prices of imported and locally produced goods, including foodstuffs. This escalation led to a worsening of the already precarious social situation. Iraqis suffer from a low standard of living as a result of increasing unemployment rates, which has led to an increase in the number of poor; There are ten million Iraqis, a quarter of the population, below the poverty line.

To face the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the government decided to allocate $100 million to urgently import wheat from several countries such as Australia, and it intends to import up to three million tons later to rebuild the stock (8) .

The Council of Ministers also took three measures (9) :

The first procedure: canceling decisions to prevent the import of some foodstuffs, and the duration of the procedure is three months, subject to extension according to the circumstances.

The second measure: Zero customs duties imposed on the import of essential foodstuffs; Which contributes to the decline in prices and the rate of inflation. This exemption is also valid for three months and is renewable.

The third measure that directly concerns the poor class is related to deciding a cash assistance of 100,000 dinars called the cost of living grant.

The aid is granted only once, and its amount equal to $66 covers the food expenses of one person for a period not exceeding ten days.

It is decided for categories of employees who have a monthly salary of less than 500 thousand dinars. And for retirees who have a monthly salary of less than one million dinars. The number of these employees and retirees is less than one million people. As for the third category eligible for this assistance, they are families covered by social care, for each family (not for each individual) only one grant, the number of which is 1.4 million families (10) .

On this basis, the state spends – at most – 160 million dollars to distribute this grant to all those who are entitled, while the state’s revenues have increased significantly due to the Russo-Ukrainian war; In February 2022, the average price of a barrel of Iraqi oil was $92. Then, in March of this year, due to the Russo-Ukrainian war, it rose to $110. Thus, the monthly oil revenues moved from 8,540 million dollars to 11,070 million dollars (11) . In the sense that this war directly led to an unprecedented increase in Iraqi oil revenues by 2530 million dollars in one month. The dues of foreign companies operating in Iraq, which constitute about a quarter of this amount, must be subtracted; We then arrive at a net monthly profit of $1897 million. Thus, state revenues increased due to the war, while the standard of living of citizens declined.

Iraqis have been suffering for decades from the deterioration of their food security due to the deterioration of the agricultural sector and the rise in food prices. It is a structural crisis involving political factors that contributed to the exacerbation of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

disaster in lebanon

Compared to other Arab countries, Lebanon has arable soil due to its mild weather and abundant water. It produces fruits and vegetables and exports half of them to the countries of the region. But the failed economic policy that created a serious financial crisis led to the deterioration of all activities, including agriculture.

In August 2020, an explosion occurred in the port of Beirut, destroying the most important grain silos with a capacity of 120,000 tons. Noting that the country consumes 50,000 tons of wheat per month (12) and did not import quantities of grain to compensate for this loss, and did not build new silos, so the mills store limited quantities of wheat in their warehouses, which are not enough for more than a few weeks. This is a picture of the food crisis that emerged before the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The mismanagement of economic affairs also led to the non-exploitation of arable lands. Indeed, cultivated lands represent only 22% of the country’s area, while 63% of this area is arable (13) .

The agricultural sector is characterized by weak bank financing due to the financial crisis and the primitiveness of production processes. Add to that the high cost of production, which leads to weakening the competitiveness of Lebanese products. Therefore, the agricultural trade balance records a huge deficit; Agricultural exports amounted to 0.7 billion dollars against 3.5 billion dollars of agricultural imports (14) . This situation effectively contributed to the rise in food prices, especially after the Russo-Ukrainian war.

During the period between October 2019 and June 2021, the prices of these materials increased by 404 percent (15) . According to official statistics, the inflation rate reached 154% in 2021 (16) . This situation led to serious social repercussions; According to UNICEF, a third of Lebanon’s children do not eat dinner, and three quarters of the population do not have the means to live and are forced to borrow money. Therefore, the Lebanese people are considered – according to the United Nations (17) – among the most unfortunate peoples in the world. It ranks penultimately in the international classification of people’s happiness.

The food crisis emerged as a result of the deteriorating financial situation that the country has been suffering from for decades, and then exacerbated for two reasons: The first reason: the Syrian issue, which led to 1.5 million Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon, most of whom receive aid from the World Food Program. The second reason: the Russian-Ukrainian war, which led to an increase in the prices of all foodstuffs, especially grain.

Cereal imports amounted to $354 million, equivalent to 28% of total imports. This is a high percentage indicating the importance of these purchases in foreign trade and food security.

Cereal imports from Ukraine amounted to $227 million (18) , in 2021. Thus, Ukraine ranks first in cereal imports, contributing 64% of it. Add to this the reliance on Ukraine to buy edible oil and meat for $71 million.

This brings the total food imports from Ukraine to 298 million dollars. Since Lebanon has a population of 6.8 million, the average Lebanese per capita share of these imports is $43.8. In this sense, Lebanon ranks first in the Arab world; The share of the Lebanese is three times that of the Egyptian. Note that Egypt is the largest Arab country importing grain from Ukraine. Thus, the Russian-Ukrainian war, which led to the rise in food prices, contributes significantly to the deterioration of Lebanese food security.

This war also poses to all Arab countries the dilemma of urgent and alternative solutions. Other grain-exporting countries have to be found geographically close to Lebanon, Romania and Bulgaria, but transportation across the Black Sea is fraught with risks, especially if this war expands. Therefore, the attention of the Lebanese is directed to France in the first place; Paris (19) announced an increase in its wheat exports to Arab countries from 7.4 million tons in the previous season to 9.7 million tons in the current season, and Lebanon is one of the countries benefiting from this increase.

But the problem is not limited to finding new suppliers of foodstuffs, but also includes the weak confidence of those in the state’s finances and the low ability of importers to fulfill their obligations.

Lebanon suffers from a severe economic crisis: a chronic deficit in the public budget and trade balance, a serious deterioration in the exchange rate of the lira, a massive increase in external debt amounting to $38 billion, or 115 percent of GDP, a decline in the monetary reserve of the Central Bank, the control of militias, and rampant financial corruption . The country ranks 154th in the world in Transparency International’s report (20) . More dangerous than this and that is the lack of the ability to address these problems. Therefore, the World Bank (21) considers the Lebanese economic crisis to be one of the most serious crises in the world since the mid-nineteenth century.

This situation has resulted in the country having the lowest credit rating by all international specialized agencies. Thus, it is difficult to obtain external loans to finance purchases, especially consumer goods, such as foodstuffs. The deterioration in the confidence of suppliers leads to an increase in insurance amounts, which leads to an increase in the prices of imported materials. This resulted in suppliers not delivering the goods unless they were paid in advance. In this regard, the Ministry of Economy and Trade stated, at the beginning of March 2022, that there are ten ships loaded with wheat in Lebanese territorial waters bought by Lebanese merchants, waiting to be paid by the banks in order to enter the port.

This also happened in Tunisia, in December 2021, when four ships refused to unload their cargo of Ukrainian grain.

Of course, the importer has to pay a fine for the delay for each day and for each vessel. The consumer bears the burden of this fine, which is added to the final price.

The deterioration of food security in Lebanon cannot be addressed by merely preventing the export of some locally produced foodstuffs. Rather, the mismanagement of economic affairs and the control of factions linked to the interests of foreign countries must be addressed.

deterioration in Egypt

Egypt ranks first in the Arab world in wheat consumption due to its population of 103 million, a quarter of the population of the Arab world. The per capita consumption of bread is also very high, which far exceeds the world average.

Egyptians consume 21 million tons of wheat annually; They produce 9 million tons and import 12 million tons. Thus, Egypt is the largest importer of wheat in the world.

In 2020, grain imports from Ukraine amounted to $1180 million and from Russia $1,630 million (22) . These two countries represent 80% of Egypt’s wheat imports. Because of the suspension of imports from Ukraine and the faltering of imports from Russia, the prices of all foodstuffs rose sharply.

The state also suffers from a chronic financial deficit that rose from 424 billion pounds in the previous year to 472 billion pounds in the current fiscal year 2021-2022 (23) .

To remedy this situation, the authorities have resorted to increasing taxes on the one hand and reducing commodity subsidies and social grants on the other. Which contributed to the further deterioration of the standard of living.

The Russian-Ukrainian war has also affected the trade balance, which is also running a chronic deficit, and this year it will rise significantly.

As for the repercussions of this war on the trade balance in the field of energy, they are not positive like Iraq, nor are they negative like Lebanon. The impact is positive on the one hand oil and gas exports and negative on the one hand imports of petroleum products. Because exports are equal with oil imports, the positive impact of the war becomes almost equal to its negative impact.

Egypt suffers from the continuous rise in foreign debt, which amounted to $123.5 billion in June 2020 (24) . That is an increase of $14.8 billion over the same period the previous year. The balance of payments recorded a massive deficit of $8.5 billion in 2020 (25) .

The Russo-Ukrainian war exacerbated this crisis. It has become necessary to turn again to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to request assistance. Thus, Saudi Arabia made a $5 billion bank deposit on March 30, 2022 (26) . Cairo also expects to receive other deposits from Doha, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.

This money will give new breath to stifled finances and encourage foreign investors. In particular, it will lead to strengthening the Egyptian negotiating position with international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, to finance a new investment program.

At the local level, the government has taken some measures to achieve food security, which can be divided into two types: urgent and medium-term.

Three quick solutions:

First: The decision to ban the export of several foodstuffs such as beans, lentils, wheat and pasta. The decision entered into force on March 11, 2022, for a period of three months (27) .

This decision, which aims to fill the shortage of foodstuffs, has negative repercussions that are reflected in the decline in commodity exports, and thus the food trade balance deficit will rise. It has also severely affected prices in countries that depend on importing these materials from Egypt, such as the regions of eastern Libya.

Second : Pricing an unsubsidized loaf of bread in order to stop its price hike.

Third: The government pledged not to raise the price of subsidized bread (baladi living).

This bread is sold under a special system; For every Egyptian registered in the ration card, five loaves of bread per day, the price of a loaf is five piasters. Egypt produces 270 million loaves daily in bakeries subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Supply, and the production is distributed to 72 million citizens (28) , or one third of the population.

According to the ministry, one loaf costs 65 piasters. The difference between the cost and the selling price represents the amount of support provided by the state budget, which amounts to sixty billion pounds.

A number of officials stated that the price of this bread has not changed for decades, but other high-level statements have appeared indicating the need to raise its price, i.e. reduce subsidies. Note that the government decided, in August 2020, to reduce the weight of the loaf from 110 grams to 90 grams, when it would have been better if the exact opposite happened due to the negative repercussions of the Corona epidemic.

As for the medium-term solutions, they can be divided into agricultural and monetary.

The agricultural solutions are to add new areas for wheat cultivation in some areas, especially Toshka. The state also aims to provide a sufficient amount of wheat until the end of this current year. This comes from the local production of the current season (2022) and from storage.

As for monetary solutions, they are reducing the par value of the pound and raising the interest rate.

In March 2022, the exchange rate, which moved from 15.6 pounds to the dollar to 18.2 pounds to the dollar, was reduced, meaning the par value of the Egyptian currency fell by a high rate of 16.6%.

This operation aims to encourage tourism whose revenues are declining as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, which resulted in the reluctance of Russian and Ukrainian tourists, who represent a third of the number of foreign tourists in Egypt. In 2021, Egypt received 1.4 million Ukrainian tourists (29) .

It also aims to improve the remittances of Egyptian workers residing abroad. Therefore, it is assumed that the reduction will lead to the strengthening of the services account and the account of current transfers in the balance of payments, thus increasing the monetary reserve.

As for the central bank’s decision to raise the interest rate by one percentage point, it seeks to reduce cash flow to reduce the money supply; Then the inflation rate falls. It also seeks to encourage foreign investors to increase foreign exchange.

However, these medium-term solutions have limitations and negative side effects. Decreasing the par value of the pound may not improve tourism due to the escalation of the inflation rate. The reduction also leads to an increase in the prices of all imported agricultural and industrial commodities, thus harming those with limited and low incomes. In this sense, the reduction is not a solution to the crisis, but rather one of the reasons for its aggravation.

On the other hand, the tourism decisions of the Russians and Ukrainians will not be affected by the devaluation of the pound, but rather by the decline in their financial ability if their war continues.

Also, raising the interest rate necessarily leads to an increase in the public debt service; Then public expenditures rise, and the fiscal deficit increases.

The Russo-Ukrainian war will contribute to an increase in the merchandise trade deficit and a rise in food prices. Under the influence of the reform programs supervised by the International Monetary Fund, and due to the chronic deficit of the public budget and the continuous increase in indebtedness, the state will be forced to reduce commodity subsidies and grants directed to some social groups. Then the standard of living will fall, especially if the war is prolonged.


The Corona epidemic has led to an improvement in agricultural production in several Arab countries; In 2020, Iraq declared self-sufficiency. There is therefore a possibility to reach this state, but it appears in emergency cases.

The Russian-Ukrainian war may contribute like an epidemic to the development of local production, but food security in the above concept collides with several obstacles, especially in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt, which suffer from several financial problems and mismanagement of public affairs.

It is necessary to carry out fundamental reforms dealing with the state’s internal and external finances, because the food crisis created by the Russian-Ukrainian war did not appear in the Arab region except in countries that suffer from severe financial problems. However, these long-term reform programs do not address the repercussions of the urgent aspect of the war related to the rise in food prices.

The war indicated the failure of financial, monetary and banking dealings with crises in exceptional circumstances. This is critical because it relates to substances necessary for human life and health. Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and Tunisia find no alternative to resorting to external borrowing to finance their food purchases. Then the financial capacity will decline, and the severity of the food crisis will necessarily increase.

About the author


Sabah Naouch – economic researcher

 1-According to the World Trade Organization, Russia and Ukraine account for 15% of world barley exports, 25% of wheat exports, and 45% of edible oils exports, April 11, 2022, (access date: April 6, 2022): https://www.

 2 –World Food Program, press release: Ukraine increases Yemen’s tragedies, March 15, 2022, (date of entry: April 6, 2022).…

 3-World Bank data.

 4-Ministry of Planning, Statistical Group, Chapter Three – Agricultural Statistics.

 5-Central Statistical Organization, Directorate of Trade Statistics, “Imports for the year 2020,” July 2021, Table No. 5.


 7-Previous reference No. 6, (Accessed: April 6, 2022).

8-Some interpreted the ministry’s statement incorrectly, saying: Iraq spent $100 million to purchase three million tons of wheat. In fact, the price per ton reached 426 dollars. In other words, $100 million is earmarked for importing 230 thousand tons to meet the urgent need. Three million tons is the amount that the government intends to provide as stockpiles in the long term.

9-Resolution No. 72 of 2022 issued by the Council of Ministers on March 15, 2022. 

10-Article 1 of Law No. 11 of 2014 states that the family covered by social care is the family that lives below the poverty line.

11-Information regarding prices, revenues and production is published monthly on the official account of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil on Facebook.

12-Al Jazeera Net website, “Ukraine’s war…the wheat reserves in Lebanon suffice for a month…”, February 25, 2022, (access date: April 12, 2022):

13-   Vivian Akiki, The use of land in Lebanon is also monopolized, Al-Akhbar, January 28, 2019, (access date: April 12, 2022):   ;

 14-Al-Ahed News Website, Muhammad Jabai, “The Agricultural Sector in Lebanon: Problems and Solutions,” February 10, 2021. (Date of entry: April 12, 2022): id=37734&cid=124

15-UNHCR in Lebanon, “United Nations: Syrian refugees in Lebanon struggle to survive….” September 29, 2021 (access date: April 12, 2022):

 16- (Accessed date: April 12, 2022)

17-… (Date of access: April 12, 2022):

18-The site referred to in footnote number 6, (Accessed date: April 6, 2022).

 19-Terre-net: France will export more common wheat than expected. March 10, 2022.…

 20-Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2021,” p. 3.


 22-The site referred to in footnote number 6, (Accessed date: April 6, 2022).

 23-Ministry of Finance, Financial Statement on the State’s Draft General Budget for the year 2021/2022, Table No. 21 on page 150.

The fiscal year in Egypt begins at the beginning of July and ends at the end of June.

24-Egyptian Central Bank. Annual Report 2019/2020. page 43.

25-The Central Bank of Egypt, previous reference, page 28 of the supplements.

26-Saudi Press Agency, (access date: April 12, 2022):

 27-Ministry of Commerce and Industry Decision No. 141 of 2022 issued in the Official Gazette on March 10, 2022.

28-Wafaa Al-Saidi, “The price of a subsidized municipal bread is fixed at 5 piasters on the ration card,” March 5, 2022, (access date: April 12, 2022):

29-Alaa Abdel-Razzaq, “Because of the Russian war on Ukraine, the crisis of the tourism sector in Egypt is worsening,” Al Jazeera Net, March 15, 2022, (access date: April 12, 2022): 

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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