How did the Russian-Ukrainian war trigger a global food crisis? | Explanatory news

Russia’s war in Ukraine is preventing grain from leaving the “breadbasket of the world” and making food more expensive around the world, threatening to worsen shortages, hunger and political instability in developing countries.

Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70% of its sunflower oil, and are major suppliers of corn.

Russia is the world’s largest fertilizer producer.

World food prices were already rising and the war made matters worse, preventing some 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain from reaching the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia.

Weeks of negotiations over safe corridors to get grain out of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have made little progress, with urgency increasing as the summer harvest season approaches.

“It must happen in the next two months [or] it’s going to be horrible,” said Anna Nagurney, who studies crisis management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and sits on the board of trustees of the Kyiv School of Economics.

She says 400 million people around the world depend on Ukrainian food supplies. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts that up to 181 million people in 41 countries could face a food crisis or worse levels of hunger this year.

Here is an overview of the global food crisis:

What is the situation ?

Typically, 90% of wheat and other grains from Ukrainian fields are shipped to world markets by sea, but have been blocked by Russian blockades on the Black Sea coast.

Some of the grain is re-routed across Europe by rail, road and river, but the amount is a drop in the ocean compared to sea routes. Shipments are also backed up because Ukraine’s rail gauges do not match those of its neighbors to the west.

Ukraine’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Markian Dmytrasevych has asked European Union lawmakers to help him export more grain, including expanding the use of a Romanian port on the Black Sea, building more cargo terminals on the Danube and cutting red tape for moving goods through the Polish port. border.

But that means food is even further away from those who need it.

“Now we have to go around Europe to get back to the Mediterranean. It really added an incredible cost to Ukrainian grain,” said Joseph Glauber, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

Ukraine has only been able to export 1.5 to 2 million tonnes of grain per month since the start of the war, compared to more than 6 million tonnes, Glauber said.

Russian grain does not come out either.

Moscow says Western sanctions against its banking and shipping sectors prevent Russia from exporting food and fertilizers and scare foreign shipping companies from transporting them. Russian officials are pushing for sanctions to be lifted to get grain to world markets.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other Western leaders, however, say the sanctions do not affect food.

A Ukrainian farmer wears a bulletproof vest and a helmet while working in the fields in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in April 2022 [File photo: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

What are the parties saying?

Ukraine has accused Russia of bombing agricultural infrastructure, burning fields, stealing grain and trying to sell it to Syria after Lebanon and Egypt refused to buy it.

Satellite images taken in late May by Maxar Technologies show Russian-flagged ships in a Crimean port laden with grain, then days later docked in Syria with their hatches open.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had caused a global food crisis. The West agrees, with officials such as European Council President Charles Michel and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Russia is weaponizing food.

Russia says exports can resume once Ukraine removes mines from the Black Sea and arriving ships can be checked for weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promised that Moscow “would not abuse” its naval advantage and “take all necessary measures so that the ships could leave freely”.

Ukrainian and Western officials doubt the promise.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said this week that it might be possible to create safe corridors without the need to clear the sea because the location of explosive devices is known.

But other questions would remain, such as whether insurers would provide cover for the ships.

Dmytrasevych told EU agriculture ministers this week that the only solution was to defeat Russia and unblock the ports: “No other temporary measures, such as humanitarian corridors, will solve the problem.”

How did we come here?

Food prices were rising before the invasion, due to factors such as bad weather and poor harvests which reduced supplies, while global demand rebounded strongly after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Glauber cited poor wheat crops last year in the United States and Canada and a drought that hurt soybean yields in Brazil.

Also exacerbated by climate change, the Horn of Africa is facing one of its worst droughts in four decades, while a record heat wave in India in March reduced wheat yields.

This, coupled with soaring fuel and fertilizer prices, has prevented other major grain-producing countries from filling the gaps.

Who is most affected?

Ukraine and Russia mainly export commodities to developing countries which are most vulnerable to cost increases and shortages.

Countries like Somalia, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan are heavily dependent on wheat, corn and sunflower oil from the two warring countries.

“The burden is borne by the very poor,” Glauber said. “It’s a humanitarian crisis, no doubt.”

In addition to the threat of hunger, soaring food prices risk causing political instability in these countries. They were one of the causes of the Arab Spring, and there are fears that it could happen again.

Governments in developing countries must either let food prices rise or subsidize costs, Glauber said. A moderately prosperous country like Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, can afford to absorb higher food costs, he said.

“For poor countries like Yemen or countries in the Horn of Africa, they are really going to need humanitarian aid,” he said.

Famine and starvation are rampant in this part of Africa. In some cases, prices of staples such as wheat and cooking oil have more than doubled, while millions of livestock that families use for milk and meat have died. In Sudan and Yemen, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has added to years of internal crises.

UNICEF has warned of an “explosion of child deaths” if the world focuses solely on the war in Ukraine and does not act.

UN agencies have estimated that more than 200,000 people in Somalia are facing “catastrophic hunger and starvation”, around 18 million Sudanese could experience acute famine by September and 19 million Yemenis facing severe hunger. food insecurity this year.

Wheat prices have increased in some of these countries by up to 750%.

“Generally, everything has become expensive. Whether it’s water or food, it becomes almost impossible,” said Justus Liku, a food security adviser with the aid group CARE, who recently visited Somalia.

In Lebanon, bakeries that once had many types of flatbreads now only sell basic white pita bread to preserve the flour.

What do we do ?

For weeks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been trying to secure a deal to unblock Russian grain and fertilizer exports and allow Ukraine to ship goods from the key port of Odessa . But progress has been slow.

Meanwhile, a large amount of grain is stuck in Ukrainian silos or on farms. And there’s more to come – the winter wheat harvest in Ukraine is starting soon, putting more pressure on storage facilities, although some fields may not be harvested due to fighting.

Serhiy Hrebtsov cannot sell the grain mountain from his farm in the Donbass region because transport links have been cut. The scarcity of buyers means prices are so low that agriculture is unsustainable.

“There are options to sell, but it’s like throwing it away,” he said.

US President Joe Biden said he was working with European partners on a plan to build temporary silos on Ukraine’s borders, including with Poland – a solution that would also resolve the differing rail gauges between Ukraine and Europe.

The idea is that the grain can be transferred to the silos and then “into cars in Europe and get it out to the ocean and around the world. But it takes time,” he said in a speech on Tuesday.

What costs more?

Wheat prices rose 45 percent in the first three months of the year from a year earlier, according to the FAO Wheat Price Index. Vegetable oil jumped 41%, while prices for sugar, meat, milk and fish also rose by double digits.

The increases are fueling faster inflation around the world, making groceries more expensive and raising costs for restaurant owners, who have been forced to raise prices.

Some countries react by trying to protect domestic supplies. India has restricted sugar and wheat exports, while Malaysia has halted live chicken exports, alarming Singapore, which gets a third of its poultry from its neighbour.

The International Food Policy Research Institute says that if food shortages worsen as the war drags on, it could lead to more export restrictions that will further drive up prices.

Another threat is the scarcity and cost of fertilizers, which means fields could be less productive as farmers skimp, said Steve Mathews of Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data and analytics company.

There are particularly large shortages of two of the main chemicals in fertilizers, of which Russia is a big supplier.

“If we continue to have the shortage of potassium and phosphate that we have right now, we will see lower yields,” Mathews said. “No question about that in the years to come.”

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