Friday, April 12

Ukraine invasion may lead to worldwide food crisis, warns UN | Ukraine

The world is facing a potential food crisis, with soaring prices and millions in danger of severe hunger, as the war in Ukraine threatens supplies of key staple crops, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has warned.

Maximo Torero, the chief economist at the FAO, said food prices were already high before Russia invaded Ukraine, owing to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The additional strain of war could tip the global food system into disaster, he warned.

“We were already having problems with food prices,” he told the Guardian in an interview. “What countries are doing now is exacerbating that, and the war is putting us in a situation where we could easily fall into a food crisis.”

Wheat prices hit record highs in recent days, though they have fallen back slightly. Overall, food prices have been rising since the second half of 2020, according to the FAOand reached an all-time high in February, after wheat and barley prices rose by nearly a third and rapeseed and sunflower oil by more than 60% during 2021. The price of urea, a key nitrogen fertilizer, has more than tripled in the past year, on rising energy prices.

At least 50 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30% or more of their wheat supply, and many developing countries in northern Africa, Asia and the near east are among the most relevant.

Poor countries are bearing the brunt of the price increases. Many of the poorest countries were already struggling financially, with some facing debt crises, amid the pandemic.

Also Read  Everything you need to know about the Russia-Ukraine war, today March 30

“My greatest fear is that the conflict continues – then we will have a situation of significant levels of food price rises, in poor countries that were already in an extremely weak financial situation owing to Covid-19,” said Torero, one of the world’s foremost experts on food and hunger. “The number of chronically hungry people will grow significantly, if that is the case.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has reduced developing countries’ capacity to cope. “Food systems were able to be more resilient in 2019, though they struggled at the beginning,” said Torero. “Stocks were very high at the beginning of Covid-19, there was the capacity then to respond to the shock. But having Covid-19 for two years has weakened the resilience of food systems.”

The war in Ukraine presents multiple threats to food security that will be felt across the world, according to the FAO. Ukraine and Russia are major food exporters, so the war directly threatens supplies of staples such as wheat, maize and sunflower oil.

Ukraine alone supplied 12% of global wheat before the war, and was the biggest producer of sunflower oil. About two-thirds of the country’s wheat exports had already been delivered before the invasion, but the rest is now blocked, and farmers may be unable to continue with spring planting, or take in grain harvests in the summer.

But the crisis goes deeper: Ukraine and Russia are also major producers of fertilizer, prices for which had already leapt under high energy prices – and the war is sending energy prices higher still, with further impacts on agricultural production costs.

Also Read  Sandra Bullock, the anti-diva | Today

There is also the threat of countries closing their markets in response. The worst food price spikes in recent memory struck in 2007-08 and summarized in 2010-12, caused by high energy prices followed by poor weather. Those sudden peaks contributed to riots and political upheavals, the shocks of which are still being felt.

The agriculture ministers of the G7 group of richest countries met on Friday to coordinate a response, urging countries to keep markets open.

Russia played a role in the crises more than a decade ago, with restrictions on exports, especially in 2010 when Vladimir Putin banned all grain exports after drought in key growing regions. If Putin were to restrict or redirect exports again – after his manipulation of energy exports in the run-up to the war – it would cause severe problems in global food markets.

“Right now, we can’t say prices are higher than in 2007-08, but it can get worse. If the energy and fertilizer situation becomes more serious, that will be worse than in 2007-08. If you add to that the potential for export restrictions, it will get worse,” Torero said.

“Of course Russia can do what they want with their production. If they restricted exports, then the situation would get worse. Prices would increase even more,” he added. “We urge all countries, not only Russia but all countries, not to put export restrictions in place.”

Torero urged countries to keep food systems open and to share information on stocks, harvests and food availability, to try to even out supply issues. Countries that were in a position to produce more should do so, he said.

Also Read  Sergei Aleksashenko | “The oligarchs mistrust each other. Only if they act together could they put pressure on Putin."

“Right now, the short-term problem is availability. We need to find ways to fill the gap [in production caused by the war],” he said. “We think the gap can be closed somewhat, but not 100%. Countries should also try to diversify their suppliers.”

Even if the conflict were to be resolved quickly, the impacts would be felt for some time, he said. The soaring price of fertilizer, for instance, will have a delayed impact, reducing yields for harvests still to come, as farmers start to use less of it now.

“These are the problems we will see next year,” said Torero.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *