The catastrophe of global food shortages

Wheat harvest. Vincent Mundy / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Russia’s war on Ukraine has skyrocketed food prices, putting millions at risk of starvation. Here’s everything you need to know:

Why the food shortage?

The Russian invasion and subsequent sanctions on Moscow dramatically reduced the production of crops and fertilizers in Russia and Ukraine, pushing vulnerable areas in the Middle East and Africa to the brink of famine. The two largest countries are major producers of wheat, corn and barley, while Russia and Belarus produce most of the world’s fertilizer. Prices of those commodities are already on the rise due to global inflation and shortages caused by Govt-19 and rising gas prices that have increased shipping costs. Now war has made every component of the world supply chain more expensive. Supermarket prices are expected to rise by up to 20 percent, while at least 44 million people are at risk of famine. For them, the war was “one disaster after another,” said David Beasley, managing director of the UN World Food Program. “We never dreamed that anything like this would be possible.”

Are Russia and Ukraine still exporting food?

Many Ukrainian farmers have gone to the front lines to fight, and the farms they have left are being destroyed by Russian shelling. That means Ukraine’s spring harvest of barley, corn and other crops – predicted to be a strong pre-war season – will be less than half by 2021 levels, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Ukraine last month banned the export of wheat and other foodstuffs, but at this point it could not really export anyway: Russian warships blocked access to its Black Sea ports and bombed at least three civilian ships carrying Ukrainian goods. . Ukrainian farmers will also lose their upcoming planting season, and those in the fields have removed export crops in favor of quick-harvest food to feed civilians and soldiers. Russia’s own export capacity, meanwhile, has been hampered by sanctions.

Can food loss be compensated?

Both countries produce 30 percent of the world’s exported wheat, which is less than 1 percent of the world’s total wheat – and other producers, such as India, grew more wheat last fall in anticipation of the Black Sea conflict. But it will take time for recipient countries to rearrange their supply chains and order with new resources. As Russians and Ukrainians together make up about 15 percent of the world’s shipping staff, the labor supply to deliver those orders is low. Panicked investors have raised wheat prices by up to 50 percent, and are seeking public hoarding, especially in Arab countries that rely on imports for staple foods. Those countries are already doing rations. Egypt, which relies on Ukraine and Russia for 85 percent of wheat imports, has now set the price of bread, while Tunisia restricts the sale of semolina used in the Caucasus.

How bad are things?

The Arab countries are terribly afraid. They recall that the high food prices of the Great Depression were a major factor in the Arab Spring protests that erupted a few years later. In conflict-torn Yemen, 31,000 people are already facing famine conditions, and that number could increase fivefold this year. But the pain is felt everywhere. European supermarkets are low on flour and sunflower oil, while Indonesia has almost no its favorite indomi instant noodles made from Ukrainian wheat. Long queues for bread are found in Cameron’s bakeries. Somalia is facing the worst drought in decades, but it is not possible to resort to Egyptian imports to make a difference. “From Mogadishu to Moscow, the world is deeply interconnected,” said Abdullahi Noor Usman, CEO of the Somali charity Harmud Salam.

Why is compost so expensive?

Russia and Belarus are major exporters of potash, ammonia, urea and important fertilizer components used everywhere from Iowa to Zimbabwe. Before the war, the United States had already allowed Belarusian potash due to the human rights abuses of dictator Alexander Lukashenko, and now Europe is following suit. When Russia blocked its own fertilizer exports last month, farmers around the world began cutting back on planting and switching to fertilizer. Mike Carstenson, a wheat farmer in Washington, D.C., said: “This is a shock to the grain system. “It’s not all rosy on the farm.” Brazil, the world’s largest coffee, soybean and sugar producer, imports nearly 30 percent of its fertilizer from Russia and Belarus, and is now considering opening up protected native lands to potash mines.

what can be done?

The Biden administration said it was in talks with Canada and European countries to send more food aid to hungry countries and help farmers increase crop yields. France is considering food vouchers for its citizens, while the United Kingdom is reducing pressure on the distribution of gas and diesel taxes. China, meanwhile, buys American soybeans, corn and other commodities. But Derek Heidi, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the impact of price shocks on each country would be unique, and that the complexity of the global supply chain makes it difficult to determine whether any particular price rise is due to war. Due to infection or some other cause. “We thought 2007-08 was a perfect storm,” he said. “It sounds like a very perfect storm.”

Farm equipment was faulty

The war is also exacerbating the global semiconductor chip shortage. That, too, translates to bad news for food distribution, because virtually all modern farm equipment – from attachments to tractors to gardeners – relies on semiconductors. Ukraine produces half of the world’s neon, a key component of semiconductor chips, and almost all of that production has been cut off. Ingas, one of Ukraine’s two largest neon producers, is located in the southern port city of Mariupol, which has been under siege and bombardment for more than a month. The other, Cryoin, is in Odessa, which has been hit by airstrikes and is in dire straits. Although the U.S. plans to invest billions in domestic chip production, it will not go far without providing neon.

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