Home Business the wheat planet in turmoil faced with the risk of shortage

the wheat planet in turmoil faced with the risk of shortage


“For several weeks, foreign countries, especially African countries, have been contacting us to find out if they can reserve quantities of wheat for the next summer harvest, explains Jean-François Loiseau, president of the AxĂ©rĂ©al grain cooperative and also president of IntercĂ©reales, which federates professional organizations in the sector. This had never happened to us before. »

A world that consumes ever more wheat

Since the beginning of the war at the gates of Europe, the cereal planet has been in turmoil faced with the risk of a shortage of wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Between them, the belligerents represent a third of global exports, in a world that uses more and more… “Each year, we consume 800 million tonnes of wheat, against only 600 million twenty years ago, explains SĂ©bastien Abis, researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and director of Club Demeter. Of these 800 million tonnes, a quarter comes from international trade, whereas this represented only 15% at the beginning of the 2000s.

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This increase in consumption can of course be explained by the increase in population, particularly in countries where the cereal is essential in food rations. This is the case in the Middle East and North Africa, where bread consumption is estimated to be three times higher than the world average. “These countries represent 6% of the world’s population but 30% of wheat purchases on world markets”, point Pierre Blanc, teacher-researcher at Bordeaux Sciences Agro and Sciences Po Bordeaux, according to whom wheat “has also been invited over time, and sometimes colonization”, on the plates of countries that did not consume it in the traditional way, such as in sub-Saharan Africa.

85% of the wheat produced by ten countries

But if wheat is now consumed everywhere, its production requires climatic conditions which limit its geographical extension. “85% of the world’s wheat is produced by a dozen countries, says Pierre Blanc. The possibility of providing it to those who lack it is therefore strategic, commercially and politically. »

The main granaries of the world today are Russia (around 33 million tonnes of exports in 2021), the European Union (32 million, including around 20 million from France), Ukraine (24 million ), then the United States and Australia (23 million tons)…

Three times more wheat in Ukraine in fifteen years

A ranking whose cards have been reshuffled over time. “Until the 1970s, the United States largely dominated the world market and distributed wheat to countries bordering the USSR to build their loyalty and isolate the latter, recalls Pierre Blanc. Europe has grown in power thanks to the common agricultural policy. Then Russia and Ukraine developed their production capacities, invited themselves to the table of cereal powers since the 2010s and gained a lot of market share around the world.. »

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Ukraine, for example, has tripled its production of field crops in fifteen years. “Every year, Ukraine and France compete for 4th place in world wheat exportssays Thierry Pouch, chief economist of the chambers of agriculture. For its part, Russia has gained a number of countries that were formerly customers of the European Union or the United States. »

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From now on, it is considered that more than 20 countries are dependent on Ukrainian or Russian wheat for more than 50% of their imports. This is the case of Somalia, 100%! But also from Sudan (75%). Or Egypt, more than 80%, which is also the world’s largest importer of wheat.

A “hurricane of famines”?

Could the war in Ukraine lead to a collapse of the global food system? On March 14, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of the fear of a “hurricane of famine”. In the short term, the whole question is whether the available stocks will be sufficient while waiting for the next harvest this summer. “The world harvest in the summer of 2021, one of the best in the last fifteen years, was around 750 million tonnes of soft wheat, the kind used to make bread, says Marc Zribi, head of the grain and sugar unit at the public body FranceAgriMer. A tonnage to which we can add the stocks that remained from the previous year, approximately 275 million tonnes. » What to see coming a priori, even if half of this stock is in China, which imports more and more wheat and does not export it.

→ REPORT. Tunisia: War in Ukraine worsens wheat shortages

According to Marc Zribi, however, the situation is starting to get tense in some countries: “Just before the next harvest, Tunisia as well as several countries in the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa should have around one to two months of stocks.. Egypt or Algeria, four to six months. » A risky situation. If Russia continues to deliver its yellow gold, Ukrainian exports are completely interrupted. “There were only 6 million tons left to export”, specifies Marc Zribi, according to whom this lack could be filled, at least quantitatively. “India, for example, had a bumper harvest and could export an additional 5-6 million tonnes,” he said.

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The price shock

The main concern relates to the next harvest, in the summer. “It is unclear whether Ukraine will be able to harvest enough wheat for its own needs, let alone export, analyzes Thierry Pouch. 40% of its production comes from Donbass, the scene of heavy fighting. We imagine that fields have been destroyed and that farmers are mobilized on the front. »

In the eyes of specialists, however, it is less the supply shock that could lead to an imbalance in the food system than a price shock. A tonne of wheat reaches more than €400 whereas before the crisis it fluctuated between €180 and €220. “If it is often public agencies that buy wheat for their country, as in Egypt or Algeria, it is private companies, for example cooperatives, that respond to their calls for tenders, says Jean-François Loiseau. And the negotiation will be around the price, most often that of the Chicago Grain Exchange. »

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In this context of tensions, Pierre Blanc distinguishes two kinds of importing countries: “Those, in the Middle East or like Algeria, who can subsidize bread or flour thanks to the revenue from their energy products. And those – Tunisia, Lebanon or sub-Saharan Africa – which do not have these capacities and where, moreover, the populations are quite poor. » International solidarity seems, with them, essential.



The Farm initiative to prevent future famines

The European Union announced on Friday March 25 the launch of an initiative to alleviate food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, on the model of the Covax program set up for the distribution of anti-Covid vaccines.

This plan, called “Farm”has three components:

A consultation to release stocks in the event of a rise in prices, in order to prevent certain rich countries, as a precaution, from accumulating reserves, which will have the effect of aggravating the crisis;

A raise production thresholds in producing countries, particularly in Europe. This could involve temporarily derogating from certain rules imposed under the common agricultural policy;

Investments in countries dependent on Russian or Ukrainian production to increase production capacity.

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