Ukraine crisis threatens global food security: The Tribune India


Devinder Sharma


Food and Agriculture Specialist

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, global food markets are once again facing turbulence, which may very well threaten the food security of vulnerable populations around the world. So much so that in a chat with Bloomberg, World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley recently acknowledged: “Bullets and bombs in Ukraine could take the global hunger crisis to levels beyond anything we have. seen before.

That said, it was in 2007-2008 that an unprecedented global food crisis led to skyrocketing commodity prices. A series of factors – rising oil prices, increased food production in biofuels and high commodity futures prices – all intertwined, have not only tightened global food supplies, but have also provoked food riots in 37 countries.

But despite the prescription to ensure that a repetition did not take place, the prices of raw materials had risen even before the war. Food prices in 2021 had broken previous records.

With all the other factors coming out strong again, plus supply disruptions caused by the ongoing conflict in the Black Sea region, which supplies 30% of the wheat, 28% of the barley, 18% of maize and 75% of the world’s sunflower oil supply, the world is once again facing a serious new food crisis. How serious it will be, only time will tell.

Already, food protests have been seen in Iraq and Sri Lanka. In the meantime, many countries have already retreated under protectionist guise to preserve the integrity of national food supplies. As Bloomberg rightly observed: “In the aftermath looms a looming crisis: More people are likely to starve.

With food prices already rising and the supply on supermarket shelves shrinking, food security is increasingly at risk. With US economic sanctions imposed on Russia, fertilizer prices have also increased. While Russia is the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the region is also a dominant producer of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers. The cost of production for farmers in several countries, including India, is therefore expected to increase. It will also affect crop planting and therefore impact food availability. It is important to know that not only food shortages, but even affordability will determine how much worse the food crisis will get.

Meanwhile, the Middle East, North Africa, including the Horn of Africa region, and countries like Afghanistan are likely to be hit first. Egypt, Madagascar, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Lebanon in Africa and Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Pakistan in Asia, as well as Turkey, Iran, Eretria and Iraq remain vulnerable, given heavy food imports from the war-torn region. In the European Union, rising feed prices are hitting the livestock industry, driving up the meat processing process. Spain has rationed the supply of edible oil in supermarkets.

If the war continues a little longer, the impact of rising food prices will undoubtedly be felt in all countries. Even before the war, wheat prices had reached an all-time high. In fact, the prices of most traded commodities have skyrocketed over the years. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in 2021 the prices of wheat and barley had increased by more than 31% compared to what prevailed a year earlier, in 2020. This gave an impetus to maize prices, which also recorded an increase. 44% over the previous year. Sunflower oil had recorded a 63% increase in 2021. In addition, wheat futures prices in the first week of March this year had broken through the record high they had reached in 2008 when the previous food crisis.

Prices are projected to rise another 22% from their already high levels, increasing the number of undernourished people by an additional 8 to 13 million in 2022-23, based on the two scenarios developed by the FAO. Hunger and malnutrition will mainly increase in the Asia-Pacific region, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.

As grain exporters in India prepare to fill the supply gap, with the ITC expecting wheat exports to triple in the coming year, reaching almost 21 million tonnes, this What I find strange is that those who criticized Indian farmers for producing a surplus year after year are brimming with enthusiasm that they can fill the huge gap in the world’s grain supply. I also no longer hear voices worrying about increasing exports of virtual water as India exports huge amounts of grains, nuts and pulses.

As previously reported, the world, in any case, was heading for another food crisis. Oil prices are on the rise, inflation is also accelerating, food prices are already very high, at their highest level in 40 years, and the production of biofuels – using food crops – has not than increase. In the United States, for example, writes New Scientist, a third of the corn harvest is used for the production of ethanol, a total of 90 million tonnes of food crops, while in the European Union, 12 million tons of wheat and rice are converted into ethanol.

In the midst of all this, the United States allowed a few transnational corporations to continue to trade with Russia. Although Big Ag like Cargill, Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), PepsiCo and Bayer have reduced operations, they continue to maintain the “critical” supply link. This begs the question of why food security has been conveniently left to a few big players.

This is where the prescription to save the world from a repeat of the 2007-08 global food crisis went awry. The global rush for food supply that we are currently seeing is mainly due to the fact that countries have been told to stay away from food self-sufficiency. Building global food supply chains, in the name of competitiveness, is what has led to the current crisis.

Drawing lessons from the crisis, the immediate need is to reduce dependence on markets and make agriculture economically viable. Let’s not forget what MS Swaminathan said: “The future belongs to the nations that have grain, not weapons.

Christi C. Elwood