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Food security concerns grow as Russia invades Ukraine
Russia and Ukraine account for 25% of the world's wheat production. The war could have severe consequences for global food security which is already at crisis levels.
Kab nazar mein aayegi be-daagh sabzay ki bahaar Khoon ke dhabbay dhuleinge kitni barsaaton ke baad - Faiz Ahmed Faiz (When will we glimpse again a spring of untainted green? How many rains will it take to wash off the stains of blood?)
Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine will, of course, have consequences well beyond the borders of Ukraine or Russia. While it's very early in this terrifying moment, some have argued that Putin’s war will fundamentally alter – and not in any good way – the post-World war 2 architecture. “The law of the jungle has returned.”
The conflict, which is likely to be prolonged, will also impact energy prices and its access across the world; has already shaken global financial markets; is likely to push inflation higher up; worsen supply chain problems.
It could also impact a basic human need – food. Large parts of the world are suffering from severe food insecurity that was getting worse even before Putin’s invasion.
A combination of factors like climate change, rising prices, conflict and impacts of COVID-19 has led to a situation where 1 in 10 people are forced to sleep hungry.
The war will, in all likelihood, make the situation worse. “We now have 283 million people marching towards starvation with 45 million knocking on famine’s door. The world cannot afford another conflict,” the United Nations’ World Food Programme said.
Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s most important sources of grain and agricultural produce. Together, they account for about 80% of the world’s sunflower oil production, 25% of the world’s wheat production and 20% of the corn trade.
In fact, Ukraine has been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” for a while. It is among the most fertile regions of the world. It is the country’s wheat produce that is vital for many parts of the world.
Ukraine’s wheat exports have been growing in the last few years. It exports about 70% of its total wheat production. Some of the importers are countries that have very precarious levels of food security.
Yemen, where 16 million people are already food insecure, imports 22% of its total wheat consumption from Ukraine.
Countries in the northern African region are also heavily dependent on wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia. Egypt, for instance, depends on Russia and Ukraine for 85% of its wheat consumption.
The war is almost certain to impact Ukraine’s wheat production as Alex Smith, a food and agriculture analyst at the Breakthrough Institute, explained in this prescient piece a month ago.
“Should a possible attack on Ukraine turn into a Russian land grab from where Russian-supported separatists have already established their so-called republics, it could mean sharp declines in wheat production and a precipitous fall in wheat exports as farmers flee the fighting, infrastructure and equipment are destroyed, and the region’s economy is paralyzed. Whoever controls the land will ultimately extract its riches, but if conditions in the Russian-controlled eastern parts of Ukraine are any guide, instability and paralysis may lie over the region and seriously impact production far beyond the initial invasion,” he wrote.
A disruption in production will lead to severe complications for an already stretched supply chain. The fear is that food prices will rise even more. They have already climbed to their highest levels since 2011. Wheat futures in the commodity markets have gone up 37% in the last year.
Putin’s war is also likely to impact the world’s fertiliser supply as Russia is a key exporter. Prices are already at record highs and further shortages could mean that farmers have to cut their usage of fertilisers. That, in turn, could lead to a decline in productivity.
The unprovoked invasion coming on the back of already crisis levels of global hunger is leading to a situation that some have described as a “perfect storm.”
WFP forced to cut rations in starving Yemen
The World Food Programme has said that it has had to scale back its food assistance programme in Yemen as funding is drying up. At least 16 million people are food insecure in the middle eastern country and the WFP has said that it needs $800 million to continue providing food assistance.
One in four Indians suffering severe food insecurity: Survey
A survey by India’s Right to Food Campaign has painted an extremely worrying picture of the food security situation in the grain surplus country. 80% of respondents said that they suffered a degree of food insecurity, while 25% reported severe food insecurity. 33% of families reported monthly incomes less than $40.
Pakistan’s energy crisis
Soaring inflation is fueling unrest in Pakistan. The main areas of concern have been rising fuel and electricity prices. That’s part of the reasons for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow where he landed just as Russia was beginning to invade Ukraine and said, “What a time I have come, so much excitement.”
Floods in Bolivia kill 35
Floods and landslides caused by heavy rainfall in Bolivia have led to the deaths of at least 35 people. Another 25 people are reported to be missing, while 75,000 families have been impacted by the weather event.
Ezra Klein has written an extensively researched and detailed piece on the hunger crisis in Afghanistan and the Biden administration’s culpability.
Amarender Reddy writes an excellent piece on undernutrition in India. He argues that India’s food security architecture needs to introduce more nutritious foods like eggs and pulses.
Kenya’s UN ambassador Martin Kimani delivered a passionate and emphatic speech earlier this week denouncing Russia’s aggression with reference to the history of his own country. “This situation echoes our history. Kenya and almost every African country was birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. Today across the border of every single African country live our countrymen with whom we share deep bonds.”