The statutory warning issued in early April by FAO and WHO – two United Nations specialized organizations in agriculture and health – and the World Trade Organization (WTO) has had little effect. These organizations warned against the brakes on the export of food products that could lead to worsening world hunger.
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That did not prevent Russia from announcing, on Sunday, April 26, that it would suspend its exports of cereals, in particular wheat, until 1er July, having “Fully exhausted” the 7 million-tonne quota it committed to selling by June.
Russian wheat more expensive than oil
“The seeds are of significant importance for the national market” and Russia wishes “Prioritize the supply of food for its citizens”, said Prime Minister Mikhaïl Michoustine to justify this unilateral decision which risks causing new tensions in a market already disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The argument put forward by the Russian authorities is not without foundation. In mid-March, the average price of edible wheat in Russia increased to 13,360 rubles (around € 154) per ton. A “Historic maximum”, according to the economic newspaper Kommersant which pushed the price of Russian wheat above that of black gold.
But Moscow’s concern to ensure the stability of its national market could have serious consequences for the long list of countries dependent on foreign countries for their supply of wheat and rice, cereals which remain the staple food. a majority of the population of the planet.
A dramatically cynical decision
“Only twenty exporting countries hold the world’s food in their hands”, says agroeconomist Bruno Parmentier.
Russia is one of them, which has established itself over the past fifteen years as a major player in the wheat market. “The country has regained the place it occupied in 1914 as the world’s leading exporter with, today, some 30 million tonnes sold per year”, specifies Philippe Chalmin, founding president of CyclOpe, research institute on raw materials.
“Given its weight in this market, the decision of the Putin regime is dramatically cynical. Russia keeps its stocks for fear of running out, or to speculate, but people will be hungry and some will die. Not to mention the social and political unrest that a shortage can cause, as we saw during the food crises of 2007 and 2010 “, warns Bruno Parmentier.
A foreseeable increase in the number of hungry
As such, the case of Egypt seems particularly worrying. “This country imports almost 12 million tonnes per year, of which 3 million come from Russia, bought by the GASC, a public operator which distributes bread at subsidized prices to a large part of the 100 million inhabitants”, underlines Yves Le Morvan, of the think tank agriDées.
The situation could be even worse in sub-Saharan Africa where the number of hungry people is likely to increase dramatically. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP), fears that their number will increase from 135 million in 2019 to 265 million this year.
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A black scenario in which François Luguenot, an independent expert in agricultural markets, does not believe very much. “We are already at the end of the campaign and the announcement made by Russia is not lightning. The country has already exported a lot and the quantities at stake are not likely to cause prices to soar in the long term or to tip the world balance sheet, especially as stocks are abundant on the planet. ”, he believes.
The good results of the France sector
“Right now, talking about the food crisis, the risk of food shortages and starvation makes no sense. Some countries will face falling oil rent, others will face supply chain disruptions, but there is no problem with product availability “, insists Philippe Chalmin.
In this heckled context, France manages to fare well. The 2018-2019 campaign made it possible to harvest 35 million tonnes of good quality. And as the supply chain held up, exports reached 13 million tonnes. “When Russia fails, France can say it was there, underlines Yves Le Morvan. A strong argument with client countries and a source of pride for an export sector which demonstrates its importance. “
Major players in the wheat market
In 2019-2020, global production is expected to stand at 763 million tonnes, of which 181 million tonnes will be exported.
The main producers (excluding China) are: the European Union, 156 million; Russia, 73 million; the United States 52 million; Canada, 32 million tonnes; Ukraine, 29 million.
The main exporters are: Russia, 34 million tonnes; the United States and Canada with 25 million each; the European Union ; 30 million; Ukraine, 20 million.
The main importers are: Egypt, 12.5 million tonnes; Indonesia, 11 million, Brazil, 7.7 million; Algeria, 7 million; Morocco, 4.8 million.