Conflict-related shocks can have major, unanticipated consequences for regions or countries heavily reliant on imports of essential goods.

The Horn of Africa (HoA), a food insecure region and a net food importer, suffered a major shock following the reduction in wheat exports from Ukraine after the Russian invasion in early 2022. While the Black Sea Grain Initiative – a UN-brokered agreement to allow food and fertilizer to continue flowing from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports – has mitigated the impact, food prices in the HoA remain high. Coupled with runaway inflation and drought, the cost of living is rising dramatically. 

In Syria, Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine has resulted in increased shipments of grain flowing from Russian-annexed regions to areas under Syrian government control, often transiting via sanctioned entities. Amid a roughly fifty percent decline in Syrian domestic grain production since 2011, and increased Syrian reliance on imports, the influx of diverted Ukrainian wheat is badly needed. But mismanagement and corruption mean Syria is still struggling with dire wheat shortages.

Online Event

Tuesday 28 March, 2023, 13:00-14:00 BST

This online XCEPT panel discussion assessed the differing impacts on the HoA and Syria of disruption of global commodities, such as grain, due to external shocks. It explored:

  • The growing dependency of the HoA region and Syria on food imports;
  • Corruption within the transnational supply chain of grain, particularly to Syria; and
  • Considerations for addressing the regions’ vulnerability to external shocks.


  • Dr Steven Serels, Research Fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and consulting researcher with the Rift Valley Institute, traced the development of the African Red Sea Region’s food system from a “traditional” one based on local farming and social relations to a precarious market-oriented system that is dependent on food imports.
  • Dr Haid Haid, Consulting Fellow with the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa programme, examined the actors involved in the conflict supply chain of wheat moving from Russia and Ukraine into Syria, including the networks of wealthy businesspeople, smugglers and state-owned companies.
  • Iris Krebber, Head of Food Security, Land and Agriculture and Senior Adviser, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, offered a response from a policymaker perspective.


  • Margie Buchanan-Smith, Rift Valley Institute Trustee and Senior Research Associate, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, moderated the discussion.