Ukraine: The Breadbasket of Europe, Impact of Crisis on Everyone’s plate


Keval Shah

Department of Plant Science, University of Manitoba

Ph.D. Candidate

When there is a production of any crop in the world, it impacts directly or indirectly on everyone’s plate. In the food supply chain, wheat is one of the most important staple foods around the world. Meanwhile, in oilseed crops, sunflower, and rapeseed are the significant players. There are countries that significantly depend on the import of such crops as raw wheat, rapeseed, or in the case of sunflower oil and sunflower meal. In the current crisis, there is an indirect food crisis in the day-to-day life of every human being.

As we talk about crisis, it does not mean that everyone is struggling for food. It means countries need to find alternative sources of food supply chains, change food habits, increase commodity prices and much more. And the question comes, why are all these things happening and where do these agricultural products come from?

The answer is Ukraine.

Ukraine, a country with 44.13 million population and 32 million hectares of cultivated land, is home to one-fourth of the world’s fertile black soil. Ukraine is a global producer of wheat (#7th), sunflower (oil and meal) (#2nd), corn and rapeseed (#6th). In the global export market, Ukraine contributes 46% of the sunflower oil and 54% of the meal. Ukraine’s export of rapeseed, barley, and corn it goes up to 20%, 17% and 12% of the global total, respectively for the year 2021-2022.

Because of war, it is a direct loss to more than 14% of Ukraine’s population that depends on  agriculture in terms of loss in jobs and disturbance in food supply chain. Ukraine-Russia war negatively impacts the USD $27.8 billion agriculture export economy of the country. In addition, these crops are significantly important to global communities as a disturbance in the food supply chain has resulted in soaring prices of essential commodities. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are the main beneficiaries of Ukraine’s agriculture export.

Ukraine is one of the top three exporters of organic foods to the European Union. In 2021, Ukraine exported the highest value of sunflower oil, corn, wheat, rapeseed, barley and sunflower oilcake to the European Union (USD $7.7 billion in total). For this reason, Ukraine is also known as the breadbasket of Europe.

For South Asian countries, which is the home of 50% of the world population, Ukraine is the main supplier of food grains. China, with the largest population in the world, depends on Ukraine for 32% of its corn. With the world’s second-largest population, India imports 31% of its sunflower from Ukraine. Egypt, Iran and Türkiye also depend on Ukraine’s corn exports. In a similar way, Moldova, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia, Libya, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt, and Bangladesh depend on Ukraine for wheat.

The least developed countries and low-income food-deficit countries are already struggling with high population, low productivity of agriculture land, climate change, inflation, and the COVID-19 situation. Challenges of food supply are growing because of the closure of seaports for cargo shipment, oil processing units, movement of energy, and other resources from point of utilization to a place of negative development. Point of utilization means countries and/or sectors that need help to sustain losses of food, fertilizer, energy etc. incurred from war; while place of negative development can be considered as countries that are fuelling war rather than focusing on peace. When there is a war, it is not just between two countries, it impacts what we eat today and tomorrow.

The sanctions of one country over another does not help to solve the problem, directly or indirectly. For example, the Russian Federation is the leading exporter of nitrogenous fertilizers, second in potassium fertilizers, and third largest exporter of phosphorus fertilizers. These may significantly impact countries like Sri Lanka, which is already under a tremendous financial crisis.

As food and related products are highly volatile in nature, it is required to have a continuous supply of these commodities. The Ukraine crisis is not just a humanitarian crisis; it is a call for trade, energy, food supply chain, food prices, debt crisis and many more. It is a time to address the situation with dialogues, provide support to peoples in need, and consider the countries that can play a peacekeeping role. It is a time to think about and thank everyone who can bring lives back to normal. We live in a world that can feed everyone’s needs, but not anyone’s wants.