Ukraine, food crisis, humanitarian aid. Where are we heading ?

A woman (3rd R), evacuating with belongings, protects her ears after an explosion on a bridge over the Oskil River as black smoke rises in the frontline city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, on September 24, 2022 (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Where is the war in Ukraine going? This editorial seeks to analyse the breakdown in the situation since Vladimir Putin’s declaration on 21 September, with its consequences. It seeks to anticipate what might happen in order to plan the appropriate humanitarian aid.

Défis Humanitaire is an independent website which publishes articles under the responsibility of their author in order to provide information, analysis and recommendations useful for humanitarian action.

The Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region and the recapture of many towns has given Vladimir Putin a shock and he has ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 men and the annexation of the Oblasts (regions) of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporidjia, celebrated on 30 September in Red Square in Moscow. Once again, the Russian president threatened to use all means at his disposal, warning “This is not a bluff”.

The response was immediate on the Ukrainian side, with President Zelinsky signing a document calling for rapid integration into NATO, while declaring that the goal was the recapture of all occupied Ukrainian territories, including Crimea.

Ukrainian soldiers ride on an armored vehicle outside Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, April 2, 2022.  (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) (CC BY 2.0)

In the West, the condemnation of the annexation is unanimous, people start dreaming of a Ukrainian victory and do not seem to believe in the threat of using weapons of mass destruction. The American president, Joe Biden, declares “don’t do it”, announces the sending of new weapons in numbers, reaffirms unconditional support while remaining circumspect about the American response. The French and German presidents are working together to form a common front in a European Union that is both united and divided on the final objective, between a total war and the containment of a weakened Russia with a political solution.

Russia vetoed on Friday 30 September a UN Security Council resolution condemning the annexation of Ukrainian territory. The draft was approved by 10 of the 15 members of the Council, with Russia voting against. Four members abstained, Brazil, China, India and Gabon.

The evidence is that we have taken a major step in military escalation without knowing how far it can take us. The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea is a foretaste of what may come next. But more serious is the real risk of using tactical nuclear weapons in accordance with Russian military doctrine.

“It’s not a bluff.

If the Ukrainian army pursues the reconquest of separatist territories now considered Russian by the authorities in Moscow, can we be sure that Vladimir Putin will never use such weapons, knowing that his fate is intimately linked to that of this war? And if these weapons are used in Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, how will the West respond? It seems to me that we should take this hypothesis more seriously in case Russia backs down on the battlefield, risking a change of power in Moscow for its president. We should take this hypothesis seriously for the Ukrainian people themselves, especially as we know that the nuclear “alert posture” of the countries holding these weapons is already activated, in France as elsewhere.

Le nuage atomique à Nagasaki en 1945 (CC BY 2.0)

In any case, as far as they are concerned, humanitarians must also raise their alert posture and prepare for a war that will not only last but also intensify. The number of victims and destruction can unfortunately only increase and we must prepare for the worst, to be ready, as much as possible, to help the victims. Let us remember the means used in Syria.

From now on, everything is possible and the head of the Kremlin is calling for a war against the West, which will probably not be without consequences even outside Ukraine, as we are seeing these days in Burkina Faso after Mali.

Many questions arise. Can the Ukrainian army militarily regain control of all its territory? Will Russia use weapons of mass destruction that would give it an advantage? How will the West react in this case? What impact will winter have on the course of the war? How will European public opinion cope with energy restrictions and price increases? Will the Russians carry out destabilising actions elsewhere than in Ukraine? Is Putin seriously ill and could the Russian army collapse?

How far will the global food crisis go?

Among the consequences of this war, there is for many countries and their population, the question of the supply of wheat, cereals, fertilizers coming from Ukraine or Russia (A global run for life ; Avoiding a “hurricane of famine”). Where are we with the agreement that Ukraine and Russia ratified on 22 July in Istanbul under the aegis of Turkey and the United Nations?

The BC Vanessa, a WFP chartered vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to Afghanistan as part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. UN Photos / Levent Kulu (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Before the war, Ukraine was exporting around 6 million tonnes of cereals per month according to Agritel, a reference consultancy firm on agricultural sectors. Thanks to the Black Sea corridor, since August, more than 5 million tonnes had been exported by 27 September. Agritel estimates that Ukraine could export 12 million tons by the end of the year, against 18 million tons previously, while specifying that this remains “fragile, tense and volatile”. According to Gautier Le Molgat of Agritel on RFI, the food crisis is far from over, especially since this war has amplified the food tension caused by climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and conflicts.

At a press conference in New York on 13 September, Amir Abdulla (UN Black Sea Coordinator) and Rebeca Grynspan (Director General of UNCTAD) said that they wanted to increase the number of ships in the Black Sea, that the destinations of these ships were similar to those before the war, and that while there had been a drop in international grain prices, this trend was not always reflected at the national level. They also noted that Russian fertiliser exports remained at a low level. It should be noted that four humanitarian ships were chartered by the WFP for 120,000 tonnes of wheat for the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan.

For its part, the European Commission announced on 5 September that Ukraine would accede to a Convention on transit and simplification, allowing for easier movement of goods, and the elimination of customs duties and VAT on the import of vital goods for Ukrainians. This exemption would also apply to charitable or philanthropic organisations approved by the competent authorities in the Member States.

In a well-documented note “Analysis of the global food crisis and its links with the war in Ukraine”, the humanitarian NGO “Solidarités international” conducted a survey in the countries where it is active. In the Central African Republic (CAR), it found a 28.6 to 33% increase in prices depending on the type of flour. In Sudan, food prices have almost tripled. In West Africa, there is an estimated shortfall of 1.2 to 1.5 million tonnes of fertiliser from Russia and Ukraine, equivalent to 10 to 20 million tonnes of grain. The association makes the following observation: “On the one hand, the number of people in need of assistance is increasing and on the other, food aid is increasingly expensive to implement (cost of food and oil for transporting food).

Distribution of food supplies in Mozambique @Solidarités International

Finally, the Russian president criticised the Black Sea export mechanism, saying that his own food and fertiliser exports would continue to suffer from sanctions. Whether this is true or not, the Black Sea initiative is fragile.

Helping humanitarian aid.

In Ukraine, the UN’s (OCHA) humanitarian needs assessment rose from $1.1 billion at the beginning of March to $2.25 billion in April and $4.3 billion at the beginning of August. Winter and the need for heating could increase this amount of aid for 17 million Ukrainians, whose numbers are expected to rise as the fighting continues.

For the record, Ukraine already has 7.5 million refugees, 7 million displaced people in the country. According to the UN, 580 humanitarian partners are helping 13.4 million people throughout the country. This is an opportunity to recall a request made by humanitarian organisations during a recent meeting in Paris at the Crisis and Support Centre of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, to ask the Ukrainian and Russian authorities to respect the principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and to facilitate the action of humanitarians, not to hinder it.

Two recent reports on humanitarian action (GHAR and ANALP) highlight the growing gap between humanitarian needs and the means available to meet them. In our previous editorial we already reported that the UN humanitarian appeal this year amounted to $46.3 billion and that only $15 billion had been raised by the end of the first half of the year. According to these reports, half of the UN’s appeals for people in crisis countries receive less than 50% of the resources needed and about a quarter of them receive 75% of the bare necessities to survive, while the number of people at risk is now 306 million worldwide, 90.4 million more than before the COVID-19 pandemic!

Our observation is that humanitarian needs are seriously underfunded and that international aid is in danger of running out! Will we soon have to launch an emergency appeal for international humanitarian aid? Among the ways to respond to this funding crisis, these reports suggest broadening the donor base and better targeting funding to countries in crisis. More concretely, we can envisage an increase in the percentage of GNI (Gross National Income) dedicated to humanitarian aid. In France, for example, although considerable progress has been made by the Crisis and Support Centre of the Quai d’Orsay, humanitarian aid still only represents 1% of France’s Official Development Assistance compared to an average of 10% for OECD countries! What is the problem?

Mali, 2021 @Solidarités International

Humanitarian aid is in danger of being cut off. In Somalia, where some 213,000 people are in “imminent danger of death” according to the UN, due to famine and drought, only 70% of vital needs are covered. In Afghanistan, where 23 million people are facing hunger, only 42% of the $4.4 billion needed by the UN and its partners has been funded. Should half the population be left to starve?

Crucial questions and essential lessons.

These are crucial issues which are both specific and interdependent and which interact with each other. One of the characteristics of Humanitarian Challenges is to highlight these links and to establish the relationship between geopolitics and humanitarianism in the face of major challenges in order to be more effective in helping populations at risk.

Will Russian aggression be contained without resorting to the use of weapons of mass destruction for the populations in Ukraine and the risk of collateral effects?

Shouldn’t the export of wheat, cereals and fertilisers from Ukraine and Russia meet the needs of the countries most threatened by the spectre of hunger? We must also learn the lessons of this situation now by changing food and agricultural practices towards greater self-sufficiency for the poorest and most dependent countries.

Will the international humanitarian eco-system succeed in meeting the challenges it faces?

I sincerely hope that this article will be useful to you and that you will be able to share it with your colleagues and friends to whom it could also be useful. I also thank you for the support of your donation, however small (HelloAsso), which should enable us to publish future editions in the service of the humanitarian cause. In advance, a big THANK YOU.

Alain Boinet.

Président de Défis Humanitaires.

FARM project, how effective is it in the face of global food insecurity?

Wheat field in Spasov, a village in Ukraine. @Liilia Moroz (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

One month after the start of the war in Ukraine on 24 February, France, as part of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), proposed a framework for solidarity-based coordination to address the global food insecurity caused by the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports and the sanctions against Russia. Here we present to our readers and aid actors the features of this internationally adopted Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative.


The impact of the war in Ukraine on food insecurity is now more than clear and affects us all. According to the UN’s World Food Security Report published in early summer 2022, nearly one in ten people suffer from hunger. Russia and Ukraine alone account for about 30% of global wheat exports. Russia, the world’s largest exporter of cereals since 2016, and Ukraine, the world’s largest and fourth largest exporter of sunflower and corn, are at the heart of the global food system and ensure the supply of cereals for a large number of countries, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. The soaring cost of imported fertilisers and the drop in production due to the conflict is seriously disrupting supply systems and putting nearly 750 million people living in countries heavily dependent on Russian and Ukrainian exports in a vulnerable position. While African countries are heavily impacted, due to their already high levels of debt, the conflict also poses significant risks to Europe. Indeed, the European continent imports sunflower oil and corn from Ukraine, as well as N and K fertilisers (nitrogen and potassium fertilisers are part of the primary nutrients for plant growth) which ensure the fertilisation of European agriculture. In this context, it is therefore essential to strengthen support for the World Food Programme (WFP) and to reinforce the coordination of the various actors to maximise the impact of humanitarian and food aid.

Women preparing fields in Niger for the rain season to avoid droughts. ©CIAT

The Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative was set up under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union in order to respond to the food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and to help the most vulnerable countries affected. This project was launched in March 2022, following a meeting between members of the French government, private stakeholders, representatives of the WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, and was endorsed by the European Union, the European Council, members of the G7 and the African Union. This meeting then led to the creation of a Private Sector Coalition for Food Security (PSCFS) in which each of the companies committed to ensuring the implementation of FARM missions by supporting :

  • The Ukrainian agricultural sector in its production and export capacities, in line with European efforts
  • Access to agricultural and food commodities and inputs for the most vulnerable countries alongside the WFP
  • The development of sustainable production capacities and robust value chains in fragile countries, particularly in Africa

This initiative is based on three major pillars: trade and transparency, solidarity and sustainable production. These three pillars aim to ensure trade in cereals, guarantee cereal supplies to vulnerable countries, support Ukrainian agricultural production and develop sustainable agricultural production capacities. Within these three pillars, four areas of action have been identified: increasing local production capacity, encouraging the consumption of local products, developing local markets, and limiting food waste.

Pillar Aim  Partner organisation Key actions
Trade  Ease tensions on agricultural markets, ensure full transparency of flows as well as stocks and fight against unjustified trade barriers WTO – exemption from restrictive export measures for all WFP purchases
Solidarity Support Ukrainian agricultural capacity, ensure affordable access to agricultural commodities in the most affected countries, and prepare for the effects of the war on agricultural production levels. WFP, OECD – Solidarity corridors initiative
Sustainable production Build agricultural capacity in a sustainable manner in the countries most affected. IFAD, World Bank, African Development Bank, Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme + French Development Agency (AFD) – capitalising on and developing existing initiatives such as the Great Green Wall, the African Union’s Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and Plant Protein,

– Agricultural Value Chain Development Support Project



  1. Example of the IFAD-AFD partnership in Cameroon – Agricultural Value Chain Development Support Project (Piler Sustainable Production)

The partnership is based on three streams: a reaffirmed strategic dialogue, the development of operational synergies and the identification of coordinated financing opportunities. The aim of this IFAD-AFD partnership is, with the Cameroonian authorities, to strengthen the technical and management capacities of agricultural producers, the sustainability of agricultural practices and sustainable and responsible investment in the sector. To this end, the AFD-FIDA group is committed to strengthening human capital by offering professional training and agricultural advice.

Thus, as a first concrete and joint contribution to the FARM initiative, AFD has expressed its interest in engaging in a joint dialogue with the Cameroonian authorities and IFAD on a five million euro financial contribution to the Support Project for the Development of Agricultural Sectors – Phase 2 (PADFA II).

Inhabitants of a village in Chad facing a growing food crisis.  © EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2. Development of the Great Green Wall Initiative, CAADP and Plant Protein Initiative (Sustainable Production Pillar)

Initiated in 2007, the Great Green Wall project for ecological restoration and the fight against food insecurity in Africa aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land. The project covers a strip of 8,000km, from Senegal to Djibouti (including Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia). Reforestation of this region helps combat climate change and desertification by promoting the evapotranspiration mechanism of plants on the land. Increasing the number of trees also helps to store CO2. On a socio-economic level, reforestation helps in the fight against poverty and food insecurity. Indeed, the project generates employment and produces food resources (fruits, vegetables). During the last 12 years, the project has not achieved these objectives because of several obstacles. Indeed, the project is not always the priority of governments, which are often preoccupied with geopolitical problems and violence. The countries also face a considerable lack of financial resources, which makes the implementation of the initiative more complex. Thus, the support of the FARM project to revitalise this project by increasing the financial and human resources will enable the countries to reclaim their territory in a sustainable manner.

CAADP is part of the Agenda 2063 aspiration to help African countries eliminate hunger and reduce poverty. The programme, under the FARM initiative, will be upgraded and expanded to foster economic growth by developing the agricultural sector through increased national budgetary allocations to the sector. The aim is for African countries to devote at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture and rural development and achieve an agricultural growth rate of at least 6% per year. The African Union is emphasising African ownership and leadership to pave the way for more sustainable agricultural change.

The Plant Protein Plan was created following the launch of the Great Green Wall Accelerator in January 2021 after the One Planet Summit. The aim of the plan is to speed up the transformation of African food systems to more sustainable models. The development of protein crops contributes to food security objectives and socio-economic development in the region. The initiative aims to strengthen sustainable plant protein value chains, with the long-term goal of agricultural self-sufficiency in Africa.

These three concrete actions of the FARM initiative are in line with a sustainable food and agricultural sovereignty approach for the African continent to reduce dependence on Ukrainian exports and thus minimise the consequences of the conflict on the continent.

3. Solidarity Corridors

The main objective of the corridors, set up by the European Commission, is to help Ukraine export its agricultural products through several concrete and joint actions, but also to import the goods the country needs. In May 2022 (when these corridors were set up), the European Commission (EC) Commissioner for Transport, Adina Valean, announced that 20 million tonnes of grain would have to leave Ukraine in less than 3 months in order to free up storage capacity for the 2022 harvest. Short and long-term solutions, such as corridors, are being organised in coordination with the Ukrainian authorities and EU members.

Firstly, solidarity corridors were set up to facilitate border crossings between Ukraine and EU member states. The European Commission has asked to make additional transport means available as a matter of urgency and to set up a logistical matching platform (EU-Ukraine Business Matchmaking Platform) as well as to designate corridor-specific contact points. The Commission also calls on infrastructure managers to prioritise agricultural exports from Ukraine by reserving rail slots for them, and on national authorities to show flexibility in speeding up procedures at border crossings. Finally, the Commission calls its members to coordinate to promote and facilitate the temporary storage of Ukrainian exports.

Another axis of the solidarity corridors focuses on the connections between the EU member states and Ukraine, with the aim in the medium term of increasing the infrastructure capacities of the new export corridors and establishing new infrastructure connections. In this perspective, on 10 May, talks were held on an agreement on road freight transport in the EU Member States, Ukraine and Moldova. In addition, the EC has also proposed to extend the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) to Ukraine and Moldova to enable both countries to obtain European funding for their infrastructure and to facilitate post-war reconstruction in Ukraine.

The Odessa Marine port in Ukraine with wheat containers ready for exportation. @George Chernilevsky
    4. Exemption from restrictive measures on exports of WFP purchases

On April 27th 2022, the EC presented a proposal for a European Parliament and Council Regulation, approved on 24 May, to introduce trade liberalisation measures over 1 year. Three measures are proposed:

  • The temporary suspension of all customs duties for industrial products, fruit and vegetables subject to the entry price system and agricultural products subject to tariff quotas
  • Temporary suspension of anti-dumping duties on imports originating in Ukraine
  • The temporary suspension of the common import regime for imports originating in Ukraine.

The primary aim of these measures is to promote trade flows between Ukraine and the EU and to create conditions for strengthening economic and trade relations with a view to the gradual integration of the country into the EU market.

In order to benefit from these measures, Ukraine commits itself to respect the rules of origin of products and procedures, not to introduce new duties, taxes or restrictions on imports originating in the EU (unless justified in the context of war), and to respect the principles of democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

In this context, the signing of an agreement on 22 July in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine on the export of Ukrainian and Russian grain from Black Sea ports, thanks to the good offices of Turkey and under the direction of the UN, is a major decision which remains to be implemented in the long term.

Possible risks of the FARM project

While the adoption and implementation of the FARM project is the most important thing, it is also useful to anticipate the risks of malfunctioning that would affect its effectiveness. The Ukrainian conflict and the food crisis, not to mention the energy crisis, is creating tensions and adjustments between countries and reshaping the framework of international relations.  Therefore, the project will only be a success if the EU member states overcome the inconsistencies that often accompany decisions taken by the 27 member states. Moreover, there is a real risk of duplicating existing initiatives in the food and agricultural sectors. Indeed, since March, three initiatives similar to FARM’s have been launched: the Global Alliance on Food Security launched by Germany (holding the G7 presidency), the Roadmap for Global Food Security by the United States and the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance announced by the United Nations. These initiatives show the interest and the need for concrete measures against food insecurity but underline the importance of good international coordination to optimise the FARM project.

In this context, civil society organisations are making proposals. In a press release, CCFD-Terre Solidaire states that “any real international response to the crisis will require more market regulation, more transparency on private stocks and a profound transformation of our trade system in favour of people’s food sovereignty. CCFD-Terre Solidaire, based on the government’s past experience with agricultural and food policy, also warns against making the same mistakes. The organisation recalls the launch of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition by the G8 in 2012 in a similar crisis situation, which had similar objectives to those of FARM. The alliance relied on multinationals and allowed legislative changes liberalising land, seeds and taxation to the detriment of local producers. Faced with its lack of results, its limitations and the negative impacts it generated (land grabs, indebtedness of farmers, lack of accountability of the companies involved), Emmanuel Macron made the choice in 2018 to withdraw from it. It is therefore important to keep these considerations in mind during future evaluations and analyses of the FARM initiative.

Aid actors, both macro and micro, are concerned at various stages by this FARM project, which aims to limit the global food consequences of the war in Ukraine, particularly for the populations of the poorest countries already affected by other crises. With this article, Humanitarian Challenges aims to better inform aid actors in order to improve the effectiveness of aid for populations at risk. We would be grateful for any testimonies or information you may have about this FARM initiative.


Eva Miccolis in collaboration with Axel Bonnechaux.