War in Europe
Sahel food insecurity aggravated by war in Ukraine


A combine harvests wheat in a field near the village of Suvorovskaya in Stavropol region, Russia.


With the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the food security crisis poses an existential threat to the Sahelian economy. The Sahel's fragile state of food security stems from the agricultural sector's inability to produce enough cereals to cover its own subsistence.

The issue of food security and especially cereal supply is becoming a weapon of political influence, and this is happening with both exporters and importers of cereals and always remembering not to fall into hard shortages, which is what is being used as a weapon of change.

In some Sahelian countries, such as Mali, the impact of the economic crisis is not being felt as much because it is supplied by other countries and has privileged relations with Russia, so cereal imports are not at risk. In addition, the Malian government has imposed a ban on cereal exports at the end of 2021.

However, it can be said that due to the war in Ukraine, the Sahel countries are experiencing the worst food crisis in history, a fact that has exacerbated a situation that was already influenced by climate change, drought, poverty, insecurity, and armed conflict. It should be remembered that most Sahelian countries live on agriculture and livestock as their only means of subsistence and that almost 50% of cereals are exported from Russia and Ukraine.

At the moment, if the war in Ukraine is a visible catastrophe, the real catastrophe on the horizon is that of food insecurity on the southern flank, which seems to be visible to almost no one. While we are spending all our resources on helping Europe's eastern flank, we are neglecting our southern flank, which seems to be visible to no one.


A combine harvester deposits harvested wheat on a tractor cart 


While the EU has taken steps to help the Sahel countries, this aid is insufficient, as the war in Ukraine has led to huge increases in food prices and exacerbated the risk of food shortages. Support mechanisms need to be put in place to help the Sahel countries to become self-sufficient, otherwise the people of the Sahel will also become silent victims of the war in Ukraine, and the longer the war in Ukraine continues, the worse the food situation in the Sahel will become.

Similarly, the presence of terrorist groups and organised crime in the area does not help the situation, as it causes people to flee their homes and leads to large-scale displacement both within and outside their own countries. The tri-border area in the Sahel, between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, is not only the area with the worst security situation, but also the worst food security situation.

This crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, always affects the most vulnerable, mainly women and children, and all the inhabitants of rural areas who have had to leave their homes.

The aid received is insufficient as it is sometimes not accessible to those most in need.

The solution would be to ensure food security at the local level through food delivery, maintain water distribution and hygiene promotion and once this has been achieved, to make them self-sufficient at the local level.

Without food security there is no human security, so as long as the Sahel is an insecure region, Europe will suffer the consequences.


Graph showing the evolution of wheat, rapeseed and soybean prices over the last 12 months


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the countries in the central Sahel region - Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger - are at the epicentre of one of the world's fastest growing humanitarian displacement and protection crises. More than 900,000 refugees and nearly 2.5 million internally displaced people are in the region[1].

According to World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, who has visited the region to assess first-hand the dire humanitarian crisis facing the region:

"I have been talking to families who have suffered more than you can imagine. They have been driven from their homes by extremist groups, starved by drought and driven to despair by the economic effects of COVID-19. We are running out of money, and these people are running out of hope[2]". 

Hunger cannot be used as a weapon of mass destabilisation.

There will be no peace and stability in the Sahel without a profound change in the living conditions of the Sahelian populations and as long as states continue to be failed states that cannot control most of their territory and satisfy all the needs of their populations.

Europe cannot remain impassive in the face of the severe food insecurity crisis in the Sahel while it focuses all its capabilities on the Eastern flank caused by the war in Ukraine.




A worker carries sacks of wheat flour in the grain warehouse.