The war in Ukraine could severely impact food stocks and supply chains and eventually lead to a global food crisis, the United Nations have warned.
“We must do everything possible to avert a hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York.
Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. Supply chains are being disrupted. And the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels.
“In addition, we are seeing clear evidence of this war draining resources and attention from other trouble-spots in desperate need,” he added.
According to Maximo Torero, the U.N.‘s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) chief economist, the war is pushing prices even higher, making food more difficult to acquire.See Also:Warm Winter and Water Shortages Complicate Harvests for Some Italian Farmers
“We were already having problems with food prices [due to the Covid-19 pandemic],” Torero told The Guardian. “What countries are doing now is exacerbating that, and the war is putting us in a situation where we could easily fall into a food crisis.”
Torero noted that the short-term problem is availability, and alternative food supply channels should be sought. “We think the gap [in food production] can be closed somewhat, but not 100 percent,” he said. “Countries should also try to diversify their suppliers.”
Russia and Ukraine, also known as ‘Europe’s breadbasket,’ are among the leading producers of wheat and account for 80 percent of the global production of sunflower oil.
More than 50 countries rely on the two food-production powerhouses for their wheat supplies, including developing countries in Africa and Asia already in distress.
“In a word, developing countries are getting pummelled,” Guterres said. “They face a cascade of crises – beyond the Ukraine war, we cannot forget Covid-19 and the impacts of climate change – in particular, drought.”
The Guardian reported that approximately two-thirds of the Ukrainian wheat shipments had already been exported before the Russian invasion. However, the rest remains idle in the country, and the next harvest is uncertain under the current conditions.
In addition, governments worldwide are resorting to protectionist measures to safeguard domestic food stocks, despite the G7 group urging countries to keep markets open.
Countries such as Argentina, Indonesia, Serbia and Turkey have already taken steps to restrict exports of select food products, including wheat, sugar, sunflower and soybean oil. In the European Union, Hungary imposed controls on its exports of grains, in a move heavily criticized by the European Commission.
The war’s profound effects are not limited to food alone; fertilizer prices are also rising since Ukraine and Russia are both significant producers.
“Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing,” Guterres said. “Supply chains are being disrupted. And the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels.”
“All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe,” he concluded.