Wheat production in Ukraine is likely to be at least a third lower than in normal years, according to analysis of satellite images of the country.
Ukraine is one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, but the war is taking a toll on the country’s agriculture and food supplies, sparking fears of shortages or higher prices around the world.
Last year, Ukraine produced about 33m tonnes of wheat, of which it exported about 20m tonnes, making it the sixth-largest exporter globally. This year, according to analysis published on Friday by the satellite company Kayrros, the country has the potential to produce only about 21m tonnes of wheat, down about 23% on the average of the previous five years.
As more disruption from the war is extremely likely, with fighting concentrated in the east where major wheat-growing regions are found, Kayrros estimates that the country’s wheat harvest is likely to be down by about 35% this year.
Ukraine has already moved to ban exports of grain and many other food products, in an effort to preserve its own food supplies. Transport is also difficult, with Russia blockading the country’s Black Sea coast.
Global wheat prices leapt by 20% in March, owing to the direct impacts of the war on wheat production, and the impacts of higher energy prices and fertilizer prices around the world. These were already rising before Russia’s invasion and have been sent soaring further by the impact of the war, as countries have moved to cut imports of oil and gas from Russia.
While prices have since slipped back slightly from their record highs, analysts at Rabobank predict they could rise again due to the war in Ukraine, where it is predicting production could fall by slightly more than 20%, as well as sanctions on Russia and dry and hot conditions in other wheat-producing nations including the US and India.
Carlos Mera, an analyst at Rabobank, said prices would remain high as it was unlikely major global producers would be able to increase production significantly, because of high fertilizer prices and pressure to grow other crops where prices were also rising.
Russia and Ukraine are also major producers of fertilizer, which has further raised input prices for farmers.
He added: “It is not just a question of how much wheat Ukraine will harvest but how much it will manage to export. Normally 90% of grain exports flow through ports into the Black Sea but we are not going to see that [because of Russian military action]. ” He said exports via train had also been affected by attacks on railway lines.
Food price rises are now a serious cause of concern around the world. People on low incomes in developing countries were already facing problems because the pandemic had depleted their resources, while conflict has led to countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan teetering on the brink of famine.
The climate crisis is also taking a toll. In recent weeks, a heatwave in south Asia has left millions of people facing heat stress. The heat is likely to reduce crop yields, and could affect India’s wheat harvest.
Last year, heatwaves in Canada disrupted its wheat-growing and led to higher prices for pasta. Australia, another major wheat producer, has had heavy flooding this year.
In the UK, food prices have also been raised by Brexit, which has added about 4% to inflation, according to the London School of Economics.
Much of Ukraine’s wheat went to the Middle East, forcing countries there to be even more dependent on Russia for grain supplies. Egypt, for instance, which will host the next UN climate summit, Cop27, this November, is reliant on Ukraine and Russia for about 80% of its wheat.
Kayrros uses AI combined with data from satellites to monitor commodities, biomass and other environmental concerns such as methane. Antoine Halff, its co-founder, said: “Monitoring geopolitical events in near real-time is critical to understanding them and mitigating their impacts. The impacts of the terrible war in Ukraine can sadly be seen from space, and this data illustrates the specter of rising food prices and hunger the world faces as a consequence of this conflict. “