Lebanon rations wheat imported from Ukraine as war raises food insecurity fears

Flour mills deliver supplies only to bread bakeries amid grain import concerns

Flour mills in Lebanon delivered supplies only to Arabic bread bakeries on Monday and Tuesday, forcing bakers who make pastries and thyme pizzas to close as a means of rationing wheat imported from Ukraine, which supplies 60 per cent of the country's wheat needs. Lebanon could face wheat shortages from July, forcing the government to reduce subsidised flat rounds of Arabic bread, which sustain the 80 per cent of Lebanon's population who live in poverty.

The Ukraine crisis has engendered fears of food insecurity and driven up the costs of animal feed, boosting meat, dairy and poultry prices. Lebanon's poultry feed stocks will last only for two months.

Beirut has kept tight rein on imports because of financial meltdown and reduction of storage capacity caused by the 2020 explosion in Beirut port, which destroyed Lebanon's main grain silos.

Lebanon has approached the US, India and Canada to access new grain sources as Ukrainian farmers have abandoned their fields to flee their country or take up arms against invading Russians. Ukraine's ports have shut and there is also concern that Russia's grain exports will be blocked by western sanctions.

Having imported 80 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia in 2021, Egypt has tried and failed to secure fresh supplies to maintain the heavily subsidised price of bread, fearing popular protests if subsidies are cut. Cairo has found grain merchants and shipping firms have held on to stocks in expectation of huge profits as grain supplies dwindle.

Tunisia has already rationed flour and reduced bread production. Drought-ridden Morocco is set to increase grain imports and war-devastated Syria has no choice but to reply on scant local production and reserves. Oil-producing countries in the Gulf could offset growing grain costs with profits from high oil prices caused by cuts in Russian exports.

While it is estimated importers will have to pay 40 per cent more for wheat than before the invasion, countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa must compete for supplies with rich European nations.

Soaring costs

Ukraine and Russia provide 29 per cent of the world’s wheat and barley at lower prices than other grain-exporting countries. Ukraine is also a major exporter of maize and sunflower oil. Reduced supplies at a time when prices are at their highest since 2001 could send worldwide costs of living soaring.

In a Washington Post opinion article, World Food Programme (WFP) director David Beasley warned: "While hunger threatens Ukraine directly, the fallout from this war will spread across the globe." He said that while the WFP delivers Ukrainian wheat to avert famine in Sudan, Afghanistan and Yemen, 3 million Ukrainians will have to be fed at home and abroad. The WFP fed 128 million people in total last year.

Mr Beasley wrote that a few weeks ago “there were early glimmers that economies were beginning to recover from the pandemic. But Russia’s invasion has reminded us that the root cause of hunger around the world is human folly and reckless disregard for human life. The impact of a Ukraine gutted by the firestorm of war will be felt globally for years to come.”