How the war in Ukraine has stopped it feeding 400 million people around the world

How the war in Ukraine has stopped it feeding 400 million people around the world

How the war in Ukraine has stopped it feeding 400 million people around the world
Ukraine produces more than a tenth of the world's food, but the war has blocked supply from reaching the market. (Shutterstock)
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Ukraine could feed 400 million people while Russia and Ukraine supply 12 percent of the world’s traded food calories.

However, that food is not getting out of Ukraine. Massive amounts of wheat, sunflower oil, barley, and corn are in silos that are blocked by the Russians from crossing the Black Sea from Ukraine’s ports. There is a deep immorality in holding back food for the poor and the starving. An honorable thing for NATO to do would be to escort this food through the Black Sea and out to the hundreds of millions who need it.

Farm equipment and crops from Ukraine have been stolen by Russian troops. The bombing and other fighting in Ukraine has made farming extremely difficult in Ukraine. Ukrainian farmers are now soldiers fighting for their country’s freedom. They cannot be fully farmers and fully fight at the same time. It is important to remember it was Russia that attacked Ukraine and started this nightmare.

Looking back, food prices were increasing before the war. This was due to harsh weather in key farming regions. It was also due to supply chain issues that have rocked world trade. Global food insecurity and hunger grew during the pandemic.

However, the effects of the Ukrainian war have followed on as a gut punch to the hungry, the poor, the near-poor, and hundreds of millions of others. Inflation climbed across the world after the war began. Food inflation went from being worrisome, to being scary, to being catastrophic in places.

Food insecurity, hunger, and famine are not necessarily just due to there not being enough food around. These are often because people simply cannot afford the food due to rising prices.

The war in Ukraine, climate change, and supply chain problems can quite easily add up to more famines around the world. This situation is dire. There is a real chance of mass deaths from starvation.

The world before the war in Ukraine had about 800 million hungry people. Now there are many more, and the numbers are rising as food prices climb — and as massive amounts of food are held up in Ukraine by the Russians.

In 2021, about 30 percent of the world was food insecure. That was an increase of almost seven percent and much of that was due to food inflation. The situation is far worse now.

Ukrainian corn exports are important for China, Indonesia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Ukraine would have sent out about 17 percent of the world’s corn exports if this war had not happened. Ukrainian wheat exports are particularly important for countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Ukrainian wheat exports would have been about 10 percent of the world’s wheat trade if they were allowed out of the country.

The countries that could be most affected by the war-induced wheat shortages are Somalia, Benin, Laos, Egypt, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, and Tanzania. However, there are other countries worldwide that could fall further into food insecurity, food poverty, and even famine due to the overall economic and other effects of food being held back, or not produced due to this ugly, barbaric war.

According to the International Trade Center and Vox research group, farming in Russia and Ukraine taken together, before the war, were the sources of almost 60 percent of sunflower seed, safflower, and cotton seed cooking oil. They were the sources of about 25 percent of the world’s wheat and meslin, 24 percent of barley, 25 percent of linseed, 14 percent of corn, 13 percent of sunflower seeds and about 14 percent of fertilizers.

In 2021, about 30 percent of the world was food insecure. That was an increase of almost seven percent and much of that was due to food inflation. The situation is far worse now.

Dr. Paul Sullivan

There are no sanctions on Russian agricultural goods. There are no sanctions on fertilizers from Russia and Belarus. Food and fertilizers are not getting to market. The world should be asking why.

Fertilizers are needed for the next set of crops. If there is not enough fertilizer there will be much less food after the next crop cycles. Think about what massive fertilizer shortages will do to the most vulnerable.

The World Bank and others have developed plans to alleviate the suffering now and in future. These plans include projects to help increase food production and help food trade become more efficient. They include efforts to reduce or eliminate food export restrictions — this will be difficult to do in countries that have rising food security issues and are also food producers such as India.

The bank and others plan to develop more programs to support the most food vulnerable people in the world. They also want to strengthen food security, sustainable food production, and nutritional security. All of these are great ideas, and the World Bank and others are backing up these ideas with tens of billions of dollars. However, these great ideas and substantial amounts of money may not be enough. The growing food and fertilizer problems are just too great.

The hungry and the starving of the world need help today. Farming and food trade systems and markets will need help for a long time to come. The shocks from this war on food could be with us for years. Aid and charity can help with immediate needs. But investment, research and development on different food systems, improved food and nutrition education, invention and innovation, outreach, extension services, legal, regulatory, and trade rules changes, and much more could be done in the longer run.

This is not the time to sit back and just blame this war. This conflict and its barbarity are big parts of a much bigger problem with food in the world. We all need to take a hard look at the way the world grows, sows and trades food. We also need to take a hard look at why and how we waste a third of the food the world produces. We also need to look into our heart of hearts to truly see how we deal with, or more often ignore, the plight of the hungry.

Dr. Paul Sullivan is a senior research associate at KFCRIS and non-resident fellow, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view