As the war in Ukraine marches into its fourth week, a bleak sort of accounting is underway: So far, more than 900 civilians have been killed, and more than 1,400 injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. But soon, the war may exact a far broader toll, as countries that rely upon Eastern Europe’s “breadbasket” face a grain and wheat shortage that may spell widespread famine.
Together, Russia and Ukraine account for 30 percent of the world’s exported wheat, and the Agricultural Market Information System—an international group focusing on global food-policy initiatives—estimates that 25 countries source at least half of their supplies from the two countries. Meanwhile, grain exports from the war-torn region have largely stalled, as shipping ports have closed, farmland has been ruined, and farmers have been conscripted into service. All of this comes on the eve of the planting season that sets the stage for next year’s wheat harvest.
In the United States, the shortage will mean higher prices for bread and cereal, says Christopher Bosso, professor of public policy at Northeastern, because the country is among the world’s main grain producers already and supplies much of its own demand. The jump in price is more tied to rising fuel and shipping costs than production costs.