Sudan’s Bread Crisis and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Above, Sudanese loaves to accompany eggs and meat at a Souq al-Arabi restaurant, Khartoum, 2019. Bread, an essential part of the Sudanese diet, has become a luxury in the past three years and few can now afford eggs or meat. The World Bank estimates that 70% of Sudanese now live in poverty.
“The ripple effects created by the bullets and bombs landing in Ukraine will be felt far and wide, including here in Sudan, as families are set to suffer even further with basic meals becoming a luxury for millions,”
Eddie Rowe, WFP’s country director in Sudan, quoted in The Guardian.
Two years ago, a loaf of bread cost two Sudanese pounds. Today a smaller loaf costs fifty, up from thirty-five pounds in just under a month. For Sudanese struggling to observe Ramadan this April, the hikes in bread prices follow hard on the heels of soaring costs in other staples such as sugar, oil, sorghum, and millet. Even hibiscus, tamarind and baobab fruit, so essential to the traditional Ramadan iftar breakfast are now beyond the reach of millions of Sudanese. Inflation is now running at over 250%.
This week’s post provides a brief overview of Sudan’s current bread crisis, outlines its causes and context and includes brief Reuters and Aljazeera video reports. Photo, above left, queuing for bread, still from Aljazeera report Bread Shortages in Khartoum
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Sudan’s Bread Crisis; Causes and Context
Bread Costs The Russia-Ukraine Conflict Currency and International Funding Crisis
The Impact on Sudan
Bread; Production Costs
In addition to soaring electricity, water and transportation overheads for farmers – costs inevitably passed on to the market, Sudanese bakeries are facing unprecedented increases in yeast and flour prices, following the lifting of wheat subsidies. Rains have been erratic, with this year’s cereal harvests expected to be up to a third lower than previous years and sorghum harvests predicted “to be down by 32%, while millet production is estimated to be less than half yielded in 2020.” See too Sudan farmers warn of winter crop failure. Growing climate instability and resulting rainfall variation are in part responsible for increasingly volatile farming conditions in a nation once heralded as the bread basket of Africa. Rocketing bread prices are also attributed by some to “the greed among a number of traders” , stockpiling of grain by merchants, and widespread “loss of control of the markets” in the aftermath of recent political upheaval (All Africa). Photo above right, still from Reuters video report featured below.
The Russia-Ukraine Conflict
“Ukraine is a country of 40 million feeding 400 million.”
Thomson Phiri, World Food Program, pictured above.
Russia and Ukraine account for 30% of the world’s wheat exports and World Bank sources estimate 83%-87% of Sudan’s wheat is imported from Russia and Ukraine. Access to diminishing wheat supplies and Sudan’s ability to secure them (see currency issues below) is more precarious than ever. The conflict in Ukraine has caused wheat prices to soar -“currently, local prices of wheat are at over US$ 550 per ton – an increase of 180 percent compared to the same period in 2021” – and has brought into sharp relief the vulnerability inherent in a highly concentrated agricultural export market, over-reliance on a few countries for food and the urgent need to accelerate diversification and local food production (Thomson Phiri WFP, interviewed by Aljazeera, embedded below).
Marianne Ward, Deputy Country Director of the World Food Program warns that Sudan’s urgent need for vital food aid may be overshadowed by competing claims of other desperately poor or conflict-ridden nations facing food crises compounded by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and worldwide pressures on funding. She advises that more than 40% of Sudan’s population are now exposed to extreme hunger and WFP food stocks may run out by May if new funding is not secured. At the same time, global relief funds are stretched ever thinner.
Photo above left, still from Reuters report embedded below, showing traditional Sudanese flatbread or kisra. See kisra being made in Sitt al-kisra.
Currency and International Funding Crisis
Sudan lacks ready hard currency vital for purchasing wheat and other commodities in increasingly competitive and fast moving international markets. Successive currency devaluations and the decision to float the Sudanese pound have, according to government policy critics, left Sudan on the edge of economic collapse. In an interview with Radio Dabanga, economic analyst Kamal Karrar “predicts that the price of a US dollar will rise to exceed more than SDG1,000 in the coming period.” If this happens, “simple industries, even local ones, might have to stop if the depreciation of the Sudanese Pound makes it impossible to purchase raw materials from abroad”.
In late October 2021, The World Bank announced the suspension of all aid to Sudan (World Bank suspends aid to Sudan). Last June, Sudan had qualified for relief on an estimated $50 billion in external debt and The World Bank had pledged $2 billion in poverty relief. USA also suspended all aid to Sudan, pausing “assistance from its $700 in emergency assistance appropriations of Economic Support Funds for Sudan”. Although EU aid continues, Sudan has lost billions in international aid, has seen a dramatic fall in foreign business investment and dwindling exports.
The Impact on Sudan
“There are already worrying signs that access, affordability and the availability of food is shrinking for most people in Sudan, which is pushing more people deeper into poverty and hunger,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP’s country director in Sudan. Food Crisis looms in Sudan
If Sudanese farmers find themselves unable to continue working in the sector, the impact will be complex and far reaching:
“Rising food prices and scarcity of essential agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seeds mean that farmers have no other option than to abandon food production if they do not receive immediate support. This will likely have grave consequences not only for their food security but also on food availability in Sudan and may ultimately lead to more conflict and displacement,” said Babagana Ahmadu, FAO Representative in Sudan.
A year ago, Marianne Ward, WFP’s deputy director in Sudan, pictured above, reminds us, “we scrambled together” the resources to feed over 9 million vulnerable Sudanese. This year the WFP must meet the needs of more than double that number in Sudan now “in the hunger zone”, with ever shrinking funds. Sudan has struggled over many decades to overcome food insecurity and the Russia-Ukraine crisis will only exacerbate endemic local and international structural challenges to food self-sufficiency. Food shortages have historically fed into social and political destabilization and David Wright, Chief Operating Officer of Save the Children reminds us that, as always, it is those living on the extreme margins of society – the displaced living in camps in Darfur and on the Ethiopian borders, for example – who will suffer the most.
“Hussien Khair el-Said, a father of six, and farmer in Wad-Ashana in North Kordofan, one of the regions experiencing an influx of people displaced by conflict, said he lost all his sorghum plants this season because the rains did not come. “People are really struggling here. They have reduced the meals they have a day,” he said. “I sometimes work as a teacher and was hoping my agriculture would help me. This year, we are facing a lot.”
Below, making bread in Northern Province in the mid 1980s.
Reuters Report Hunger Looms in Sudan
Aljazeera Sudan Bread Prices leaven amid prolonged Ukraine war
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