Conflicts Around the World Are Creating Shortages in the U.S.—And Not Just of Limes

While American consumers are freaking out about lime and pepper shortages, Ukraine has to worry about its wheat crop

Limes and peppers
Market in Hanoi, Vietnam Art Wolfe/Mint Images/Corbis

Political upheaval that ruin dinner are nothing new: violent conflicts have always strained the availability of basic foodstuffs for local populations. But today disruptions in food production in one area can ripple across the world. Case in point: Mexican drug cartels have contributed the Great Lime Shortage, making prices for the humble citrus fruit skyrocket in the U.S.

The conflict in Syria, too, is causing shortages of seasonings—specifically, Aleppo pepper, prized by chefs and pepper aficionados, is now in short supply. 

For National Geographic’s The Plate, Maryn McKenna writes about the dwindling Aleppo pepper supply

Should it matter to us? Erd, whose family has been in the spice business two generations so far, told me what he’d learned about these peppers. “Columbus brought chilies back to the Old World on his second voyage, and within 60 years they had reached Syria and Turkey,” he said. “Peppers were being farmed there before Hungary began growing paprika. They were fundamental to the Silk Road trade. They’re an essential table condiment still.”

And now they are in dispute and in danger. “Half of the region producing this pepper—the Syrian half—either can’t grow it at all, or if they grow it, can’t move it to sell,” Erd said. “The other half of the region, the Turkish half, is producing and selling, but the quantities are half what they used to be.”

These ripple effects don't just affect the supply of food: the conflict in Russia, for instance, could limit the supply of ammunition for some of the most popular guns in the U.S.

But as much as Americans might miss limes, peppers and ammunition, these are things that we technically can live without. Closer to these conflicts, the impacts are much larger. In the Ukraine, the ongoing standoff has put supplies of wheat, one of the country’s biggest cash crops, in jeopardy. Wheat prices rose in March due to fears over the crisis.

So far, they seem to be simply fears, and Egypt plans to import 60,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine this year to start a food subsidy program for the poor. How Ukraine will get the grain to Egypt remains is question, however. Shipments of wheat used to head to international ports via the Crimean peninsula—the area now under Russian control.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.