Several countries are currently struggling with increasing levels of food insecurity, threatening the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Before the Covid19 pandemic, food supply across countries was disrupted due to conflicts, socio-economic conditions, natural disasters, and climate change. The war between Russia and Ukraine has added to food insecurity and rising food prices around the world. Food prices will likely increase and remain the same for 1 or 2 years, causing millions to starve and suffer.
Agricultural markets have gone through supply-side shocks and price hikes before. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), frequent droughts in several food-exporting nations, food export bans by countries, and rising energy prices caused the price of food to increase between 2002 and 2008. Due to the growing impacts of climate change, national and regional conflicts, and Covid19 economic and supply chain shocks, global undernourishment reached a 15-year high in 2020.
The Russia-Ukraine war is disorganizing markets for final agricultural products and inputs at the same time. Wheat and oil seeds, agricultural products necessary for staple foods like cooking oil and bead, are the main sources of calories for thousands of people in the world.
The disruptions in the agricultural market are unavoidable due to the war of aggression and intentional attacks on agricultural infrastructure. Russia aims to target all aspects of Ukraine’s agriculture, including warehouses, fields, farm equipment, markets, roads, ports, bridges, and possibly even seed banks. It will disrupt Ukraine’s agricultural economy, destroying one of the primary sources of the country’s income.
According to the International Trade Administration, in 2020, agriculture provided more than 9 percent of Ukraine’s GDP. The rising prices of fertilizers and fuel add more pressure on the farmer’s productivity, while wartime labor uncertainty will further limit output.
As of June 2022, the Agricultural Price Index decreased by 5 percent. It is 40 percent higher compared to last year. The prices of crops have also increased significantly- 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
According to the World Bank’s April 2022 Commodity Markets Outlook, the war has changed patterns of production, consumption, and trade of products in several ways that will keep prices at high levels through the end of 2024, aggravating food insecurity and inflation.
The war in Ukraine added to the food insecurity already caused by climate change and economic instability. Changing weather patterns like rains, and natural disasters such as storms, famines, droughts, wildfires, etc., have impacted agricultural harvests. Climate change has also led to an increase in pests like locusts, which destroy and damage harvests.
Food Insecurity Impact on People
The number of people worldwide facing food insecurity and needing immediate life-saving food assistance and livelihood support continues to increase rapidly. The number of people starving around the world grew from 80 million to around 135 million before the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the pandemic, the number of people starving increased to 276 million. The war in Ukraine further pushed to number 323 million. Of the 276 million people, around 49 million are at risk of famine in nearly 40 countries.
Increasing food prices is the most prominent issue the world is facing in 2022. According to Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley, rising food prices and availability issues will likely continue in 2023. If a country like Ukraine, which produces food for over 400 million people globally, is out of the food market- it will create market volatility.
During food price spikes in 2007 and 2008, the world witnessed riots and protests in more than 40 countries. Currently, protests are taking place in countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Peru, destabilizing dynamics in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad. There will be more turmoils, protests, and riots in the coming years.
The UN is currently trying its best to provide assistance to people inside Ukraine. Beasley states that that will not solve the problems outside Ukraine; the main goal is to get the Ukraine ports running. Around 36 countries import over 50 percent of grain from Ukraine. Failure to open up the ports in the Odessa region is a worldwide declaration of war on food security. This could lead to destabilization, famine, and mass migration around the world.
Agriculture is one of the main factors that maintain lasting peace and security. The last few years have witnessed another rise in levels of acute hunger worldwide. According to the Global Report on Food Crises published, almost 40 million additional people will experience acute food insecurity compared to 2020. Deterioration will likely increase through 2022, including in places with severe food insecurity. There are severe risks of famine in South Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Qu Dongyu, while highlighting the need to prevent growing acute food insecurity trends in the future, urges the expansion of food production at the country level itself. Agriculture food supply chains and value chains need to be strengthened with the engagement of the public and private sectors in support of farmers and small households.
The FAO is doing the same in countries like Afghanistan, Ukraine, etc. The FAO reached over 30 million people around the world in 2021 with agricultural assistance and resilient building programs. Dongyu states that it is essential to safeguard agricultural systems and people against coming shocks in the future.
Further, to avoid the effects of conflicts on acute food insecurity, it is necessary to increase sustainable productivity, empower people to deliver relevant services and products, and provide access to developed financial tools and digital services.
Dongyu appealed to the Member States to keep providing the required aid for global food insecurity, provide new resources to support agricultural production, and continue to support and recognize the importance of agriculture in food security and peace. Today, the world needs sufficient, high-quality, and nutritious food more than ever- for all. For this, the international community will need to work together effectively and coherently.
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