War and Hunger: Is it possible to mitigate rising food and fuel prices in Yemen due to the Russia Ukraine war?  

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By Charlene Anne

British Journalist and Writer 

The ripple effect of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and its economic fallout, in particular, on soaring food and energy prices globally dominated this year’s G7 summit in the Bavarian Alps.

The unprecedented spike in food prices puts Yemenis at risk of extreme hunger, Oxfam, a UK based charity warned. The UN estimates 3.5 million children under 5, pregnant and breastfeeding women suffer from acute malnutrition in Yemen.

The worst-hit have and continue to be women, children, displaced families –  forced to flee several times since the start of the Saudi bombing campaign in March 2015. 

Yemen procures nearly 45 per cent of its wheat imports from Russia. But even before the Saudi Yemen war in 2015 it imported 90 per cent of its food. It has been doubly affected by Black Sea export blockades and despite ongoing humanitarian assistance, 17.4 million Yemenis are food insecure. This figure is estimated to go up to 19 million by December 2022.

Increasing global wheat and fertiliser prices, volatile markets, and supply disruptions have added to people’s uncertainty – and protracted misery. 

Displacement, blockades and deals 

Motorbike driver Ali Saleh is among the 4.3 million internally displaced Yemenis. He faces an everyday uphill struggle to put food on the table. As an elderly retired teacher in his sixties, he is responsible for his daughter and granddaughter after his daughter’s husband disappeared nearly seven years ago.

Since the invasion, wheat prices have shot up by 35 per cent compared to their prices at the beginning of the war; the price of 50 kg of wheat is up from 29,000 Yemeni riyals ($22) before the Ukrainian-Russian war to 41,000 Yemeni riyals ($31). 

Another unspoken factor preventing food from reaching its recipients is looting and obstruction of aid. Mr. Saleh says in Houthi-run territories, no one can talk about the widespread corruption. Assured that his name was registered with an aid agency, he thought he had nothing to fear. But when he went to collect aid for his family, the agency informed Mr. Saleh his name was not on their list. 

Wheat aside, Ukraine also exports agricultural commodities, including barley, corn and sunflower oil. Ukrainian grain researcher Alina Feyday said the blockades had trapped dozens of millions of grains, oilseeds, sunseed oil and other commodities inside the country after the closure of all port terminals in Ukraine on 24 Feb.

“Instead of 4-5million tons of monthly export, Ukraine was only able to ship a million ton through land border to western neighbouring countries,” Ms. Feyday said. 

Five months after the start of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, a breakthrough deal brokered by Turkey and signed by Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations paved the way for the first ship to carry Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea on 1 August. 

While some analysts call it a welcome respite to the global food crisis, others fear the effects of the major disruption in the food supply will be felt for years to come. 

Countries dependent on Europe’s breadbasket, including Yemen, have alternative options. They could turn to Europe, Australia, the US, Canada, and Argentina – but Black sea wheat is the cheapest and has an advantage logistically over others.

On the final day, the G7 democracies said they would commit up to $5 billion to improve global food security. It is unknown how much it will ease the pressure in countries like Yemen where starvation is rife.

What can Yemen do to soften the blow of rising food and fuel prices?

Earlier in June, UN envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said in a press statement the truce provided a rare window of hope to Yemenis that an end to this devastating conflict is possible.

The commitment of the warring parties to a ceasefire will provide the right environment for ports, airports and roads to open and ensure the flow of commercial goods and humanitarian aid. 

Without any sovereignty or decision-making powers, Tawfeeq Hamidi, CEO of SAM for Rights and Liberties said Yemen needs a joint emergency plan with the Saudi-UAE coalition to tackle the impact of rising food and fuel prices in Yemen.  

He said there is also a need for an emergency strategic partnership with neighbouring countries and Sanaa to find ways of rationing food and cultivating it in Yemeni areas where possible.

But first, Haley Cook-Simmons, Navanti Group’s leading food security analyst, emphasised the need for continued commitment to the ceasefire agreement, and lasting peace in the long run. 

Even if Yemen wanted to become sustainable and grow its crops, there are questions about the availability of arable land and cost of production

Since 2015, Saudi and the UAE’s military campaign has targeted Yemeni farmlands, basic infrastructure and desalination plants. Houthi landmines, meanwhile, have destroyed water pipelines and killed Yemeni farmers.

Farmers require safe and unimpeded access to their farmlands, Ms. Cook Simmons said. This will require clearing unexploded bombs, starting agricultural projects to fight soil erosion, improve water access, train and equip farmers. Continued access to fuel and fertilisers will also improve Yemen’s self-sufficiency in food production, she added. 

Equally, Ms. Cook-Simmons said it is important to incentivise the growth of food crops rather than Qat in environments where the non-edible cash crop has forced out local food crop production.

Local solutions to local problems

Grassroots organisations like Taiz-based Food4Humanity, are training local farmers and making them self-sufficient, but they need more financial support.

Reassuringly, Social Fund For Development (SFD), a Yemeni based nonprofit, along with affiliated organisations like Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Services (SMEPS), Microfinance institutions and the Yemen Loan Guarantee program (YLG) have launched several initiatives to support farmers and agriculture production. 

Hind Ali Halawi, head of monitoring and evaluation unit at SFD said farmers can access financial support through micro finance institutions and special loans. 

Less reassuringly, to ensure food security in Yemen, Ms. Halawi said other basic services like education, training and infrastructure like roads and water, need to be put in place. 

“People line up to get access to very little amounts of water for home consumption, others liquidate their assets for medical services. The extent of suffering is deep and the need is multidimensional,” said Ms. Halawi

Ultimately partnering with Yemeni grassroots initiatives and local organisations to achieve sustainable long-term goals is key. 

For this, NGO’s based in Yemen should take into consideration the country’s changing weather patterns, varied topography and identify solutions according to the needs of the people in the area, Ms. Cook Simmons said, adding “There should be local solutions to local problems.”


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