Wheat at war

Hi, it’s Rose — I write for Datawrapper’s blog. This week, I’m looking at global wheat trade to see which countries are most affected by the the war between Russia and Ukraine. I’ll also show you how to create a Marimekko chart in Datawrapper.

All of us at Datawrapper write a Weekly Chart once in a while, but I work on them every week. Helping my coworkers to develop and polish their ideas is one of the best parts of my job — because there’s always some interesting topic to discuss, and it’s rarely one I’ve thought about before. Whether it’s medieval history or Lego or rainfall in Namibia, every week usually brings something totally different.

But lately, it seems, we all have the same thing on our minds: war. In the month since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Weekly Charts have covered its effect on everything from energy markets to flight routes to the French presidential election. And this week, when it’s my turn, I find that’s all I can think about too.

One issue I’ve been reading about is the effect that the war could have on food supplies in other countries. Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s major exporters of wheat (among other crops) — and both have virtually ceased shipping. If the invasion goes on much longer, it could also sabotage Ukraine’s spring planting season and lead to greater shortfalls in the fall.

The problem isn’t an actual shortage of wheat — the two countries combined grow only about 14% of the world’s crop, and farmers in other places can make up that difference. The real problem is for countries who rely heavily on imports — Russia and Ukraine normally provide as much as 30% of the wheat exported globally, and many countries buy almost all of their wheat from one or the other.

In 2020, there were 34 countries that bought more than 30% of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. These highly dependent countries are facing a serious shock to their systems: even without a true shortage of wheat, the combination of shipping challenges, rising prices, and increased competition for other countries’ exports will make it hard to find quick replacements. Many of the countries in this group are low-income and not equipped to deal with even temporary shipping delays or price spikes.

These Marimekko charts were directly inspired by the ones in this Financial Times article on the wheat shipping crisis. I thought they were a great choice to illustrate this particular topic, because a Marimekko chart can display both important dimensions of the data — how much wheat each country usually imports, and what percentage of that supply is being threatened. Big markets like Turkey — which gets 75% of its $2.3 billion wheat imports from Russia or Ukraine — have a bigger gap to fill. They need to find someone who can sell them a lot of extra wheat. But small markets like Benin tend to be even more dependent — it sources 99% of its $7.7 million wheat imports from the two countries — and will struggle outbid big countries for alternative imports.

Wait, a Marimekko chart?

Datawrapper doesn’t offer a dedicated Marimekko chart type. But, as usual, a scatterplot can do the job.

First, I created a scatterplot with only one data point — one that’s outside the range displayed by my x- and y-axes. That leaves me with a blank canvas and the scatterplot’s many annotation options to work with. I created the bars of the chart using custom areas, and labeled them using text annotations. Add a custom color key in the description, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful Marimekko chart.

That’s all from me for this week — see you next Thursday.