Russia’s war in Ukraine sparked a historic food crisis. It’s not over


Grain once again leaves Ukrainian ports. Fertilizer prices are falling sharply. Billions of dollars in aid have been raised.

However, the world is still in control of the worst food crisis in modern history, as Russia’s war in Ukraine shakes up global agricultural systems already grappling with the effects of extreme weather and the pandemic. Market conditions may have improved in recent months, but experts do not expect relief to be imminent.

That means vulnerable communities struggling with hunger will suffer more. It also promotes risk of starvation in countries like Somalia, which are in dispute with what the United Nations describes as a “catastrophic” food emergency.

Cary Fowler, the US special envoy for global food security, told CNN: “All the main causes of the food crisis are still with us – conflict, Covid, climate change, high fuel prices”. “I think we have to prepare for 2023 to be a tough year.”

The issue is on the agenda as government and business leaders head to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week. It will draw attention as attendees discuss topics from energy costs and maintaining global security to artificial intelligence and demographic change.

David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Program, tweeted that the elite gathering takes place at a “critical time.” His agency received $14 billion in 2022, an unprecedented sum that includes more than $7 billion from the United States. That helped it provide food and support for about 160 million people.

But high food prices mean funding can’t go far, and Russia’s war continues to create upheaval. Much more needs to be done to increase food supplies in countries with greater need.

“The number of food insecure people is growing faster than we can provide humanitarian assistance,” said Fowler. “We cannot get out of this crisis by providing food aid.”

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, food prices were at their highest levels in a decade due to disrupted supply chains and extreme weather events, such as the worst drought in nearly a century in central and southern Brazil. Write price for natural gas – the main input for the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers – has also become a nightmare for farmers.

Then came the war. Ukraine normally supplies about 45 million tons of grain to the global market each year and is the world’s top exporter of sunflower oil. Together with Russia, it accounted for about a quarter of global wheat exports in 2019. As the Russian military blocked off the country’s ports, the strained food system faced another shock — This is even harder to endure.

“The Ukraine crisis has had a continuing negative impact on world food prices and [added] there’s even more volatility,” said Abby Maxman, CEO of Oxfam America. “Supply chains and how they flow to places like East Africa and the Horn of Africa are taking big hits.”

That pushed the Food Price Index developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to its highest annual level recorded since 2005, up more than 14% from 2021. In 2022, the number of people struggling with severe food insecurity — meaning their access to food is so limited that it threatens their lives and livelihoods — increased to 345 million from 135 million in 2019.

There are already some signs of improvement. The index has fallen for nine straight months and its December value is lower than it was a year ago.

An important factor is the sharp drop in the price of vegetable oils. Supply is high and demand is falling as the economy slows and recession fears. Agreement to restart Ukraine’s food exports approved Black Sea allowing it to ship more than 12 million tons of grain and other foods through early December. And falling energy prices have helped keep fertilizer costs down.

“For now, things are moving in the right direction,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at research firm Gro Intelligence.

But concerns remain, especially as food prices appear to have stabilized at high levels.

On a historical basis, fertilizers are still expensive and farmers have used less to save costs; may reduce crop yields in upcoming harvests. China’s rapid resumption of coronavirus restrictions means that its demand for agricultural products could suddenly skyrocket, pushing prices back up. In addition, Ukrainian and US officials have said that Russia is conducting slow checks on grain ships at Black Sea ports, leading to redundancy and costly delays.

Fowler said Russia is “not helping to alleviate the food crisis by slowing grain testing”.

Ships await inspection under the United Nations Black Sea Grains Initiative in Istanbul, Turkey, on December 11, 2022.

Unpredictable and extreme weather also has the following potential risks eight hottest years on record. The past 12 months have seen unprecedented heat in Europe, devastating floods in Pakistan, drought in the US corn belt and severe drought in South America associated with La Niña phenomenon.

“We’ve been through a lot of climate change,” Haines said. “It’s a big unknown.”

Fluctuations in global food markets have added to the ranks of the poor and hungry around the world, and those monitoring conditions are worrying the future.

“We are really in a time of growing poverty,” said Dina Esposito, USAID Global Food Crisis Coordinator, who is traveling with Fowler to Malawi and Zambia this week. due to all these shocks, especially in Africa.

Governments, still affected by the pandemic, have less bandwidth to provide support, especially because of rapidly rising interest rates – forcing payments on heavier debts – and a strong US dollar, making food imports more expensive. Agricultural prices in local currency have increased by 142% in Malawi and 120% in Zambia since the start of 2020, according to an analysis from Gro Intelligence.

Piles of dirt and stones mark 14 graves of children who recently died of malnutrition and measles in Somalia.  The Horn of Africa country is suffering its worst drought in decades, with millions of Somalis in need of food, aid and humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, countries on the brink, such as drought-stricken Somalia, have push further to the edge. Aid groups have estimated that more than 90% of the wheat consumed in the country comes from Russia and Ukraine. Oxfam’s Maxman, who went there in September, said disruptions to the food supply were evident in the markets.

Last summer, a senior nutrition manager at a clinic run by the International Rescue Committee in Mogadishu told CNN their number of cases had skyrocketed 80% in a month, and they were showing signs of improvement. saw a staggering 265% increase in severe malnutrition among underage children. No. 5.

“It is the complex effects that are harming those least responsible for what is happening the most,” says Maxman.


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