The fallout from the war in Ukraine has drawn world attention to energy prices. But food insecurity is also on the rise and is likely to get worse
By John P. Ruehl
With some of the most fertile soils in the world, Ukraine has earned the nickname bread basket Europe is an understatement of its agricultural potential. Along with RussiaThe two countries account for around 14 percent of global corn exports, 22 percent of canola/canola exports, 27 percent of wheat exports and 30 percent of barley exports, as well as almost 70 percent of global exports of sunflower oil. Russia is also the world Top exporter of fertilizersand so the global food system faces the simultaneous challenges of the West sanctions on Russia and steeper costs for both growing and import food.
Since February, Russia has confiscated some of the Ukrainian detainees vitalAgricultural regions in the east and south-east of the country. The Russian military also prevented Ukraine from doing so access its Black Sea ports, making Ukraine essentially landlocked and unable to export its food to international markets.
But while the war certainly exacerbated the global food crisis, it was preceded by the food price increases of 2007 and 2011, in addition to the increase observed due to COVID-19. after decades of declining costs in real prices of food. 2021, Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) showed more massive increases in the prices of meat, dairy, grains, vegetable oils and sugar, surpassing the previous peaks of 2007 and 2011.
Food prices have continued to skyrocket since the start of the Ukraine war. The situation has highlighted declining food self-sufficiency around the world, which the FAO defines as “the extent to which a country can meet its food needs from its own domestic production.” Global food self-sufficiency has declined since the 1960s, especially in Africabut also in countries like Japan.
Based on current trends, only 14 percent of countries are projected to be self-sufficient by the end of the century, according to an article in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Imports are therefore becoming increasingly important for the growing number of countries that cannot meet their food needs through domestic production. But the increasing volatility in food prices since 2007 has tested the affordability and competence of this system.
Food security, i.e. the ability to meet food requirements through domestic production and imports, has also fallen worldwide in recent years. While wealthier countries that have become less self-sufficient in food production have previously been able to shoulder rising import costs, so too can food shortages influence they also.
Factors other than the war in Ukraine and the disruption to global supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated these stresses. In the year 2000 the world population was standing at around 6.1 billion while today it’s 7.9 billion. Global eating habits have also changed, as has meat consumption per capita increased sharply in the last 20 years. High obesity rates, formerly limited to Europe and North America, are now widespread worldwide.
With more mouths to feed, global food security has also been threatened the loss of farmland due to erosion, pollution, climate change and increasing water scarcity in recent decades. These problems were partially offset by increased efficiencies in food production and globalization, which allowed countries to sell surplus food products in a competitive marketplace.
However, the war in Ukraine has pushed these problems into overdrive. Russia hasn’t just stifled Ukraine’s ability to export significantly reduced food and agricultural exports to “unfriendly countries” in the wake of the sanctions, cutting off shipments of most of the food products it exported to the western world, as well as Japan and South Korea.
But net exporters like Russia are also in trouble, as the Kremlin announced in March that it would “expose Exports of wheat, meslin, rye, barley and corn to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) – the Russian-led economic bloc – until March 31.
The food crisis has prompted other countries to make greater efforts to strengthen their positions on securing food supply systems. The US imported Fertilizers worth over a billion dollars from Russia in 2021. To offset US agriculture’s dependence on Russia, President Joe Biden has pledged $2.1 billion June 1 to strengthen the nation’s food system.
Marchthe European Union has pledged up to €1.5 billion to support the bloc’s farming sectors, and so has relaxed regulations on the European Green Deal, including restrictions on land available for farming. Launched in 2019 to curb and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, the Green Deal has underscored the seriousness of the situation.
As food prices began to rise rapidly in 2021, China was accused of stockpiling grain. Until DecemberThe country held more than half of the world’s grain supply, and according to the US Department of Agriculture, China is projected to hold half of the world’s wheat supply, 60 percent of the world’s rice supply, and approximately 70 percent of the world’s corn supplies in the first half of 2022.
More than a dozen countries have banned certain or all food exports through the end of this year or into next year, and these measures are unlikely to be the last. The recent spike in wheat prices, which have risen more than 40 percent since January, followed India’s announcement that it would ban exports after a heatwave that destroyed crops in the country. As the world’s second largest wheat producer, India’s decision added another blow to uncertainty surrounding global food markets.
More drastic effects are being felt in Sri Lanka. 2021 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issue a ban on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers to make the country’s agricultural sector fully organic by 2030. The move was eventually approved amid claims that the ban was merely an attempt to reduce imports and preserve Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves decimated domestic food production.
After an economic crisis in 2019, the pandemic and rising food and energy costs as a result of the war in Ukraine, Sri Lanka defaulted on his debt for the first time in history in May. Other economically unstable countries face a similar fate, as does Sri Lanka violent protests.
The chaotic consequences of rising food prices were already visible more than a decade ago. Food affordability was a main contributor until the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2010, which led to protests, the overthrow of governments and civil wars. The Arabic region typically gets between 40 and 50 percent of its food imports from Ukraine and Russia, suggesting the region is particularly vulnerable to food insecurity.
Even before the invasion of Ukraine, more and more people around the world were malnourished. Last year marked a record high of almost 193 million people in 53 countries and territories affected by acute food insecurity according to the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC).
Along with the millions of Ukrainians in need of food aid this year, the harvests and conflicts in other parts of the world are underwhelming meant Countries such as Yemen, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger, Somalia and South Sudan are also high-risk countries, in addition to countries more severely affected by rising food costs.
Although the food crisis has prompted governments to take nationalist measures to protect themselves, there are some examples of international cooperation. India provided Sri Lanka with loans in the billions since the beginning of the economic crisis and emergency food supplies.
European countries are now trying develop alternative transit routes for Ukrainian food away from Russian-controlled Black Sea ports, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Turkey on 8th for discussions that included creating a Black Sea Corridor to allow Ukrainian grain to reach world markets.
But like energy, food has served as a weapon of foreign policy. Given that food insecurity is one of the main sources of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leverage over the West, he can be expected to double down to ensure the current food crisis persists. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared on April 1 that food exports are a “calm but menacing” Weapon that Russia wanted to use.
The Federal Criminal Police Office has also warned of increasing cyber attacks and possible sabotage of agricultural and food crops in the United States. As the global food crisis approaches a new phase, increasing Ukrainian exports, promoting international cooperation and developing additional agricultural initiatives will be crucial to overcome it.
This item was produced by globetrotter.
John P. Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, DC. He is Associate Editor of Strategic Policy and a contributor to several other foreign policy publications. He is currently finalizing a book about Russia to be published in 2022.