How Russian aggression in Ukraine threatens a global food crisis

10 May, 04:34 PM
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A Ukrainian soldier inspects the rests of a Russian rocket that landed in a Ukrainian grain field (Photo:voanews.com)

A Ukrainian soldier inspects the rests of a Russian rocket that landed in a Ukrainian grain field (Photo:voanews.com)

Russia's military invasion of Ukraine has already hit the country's agricultural sector. 

The shelling of Ukrainian elevators and farms, the theft of grain, as well as theft of modern agricultural machinery, in addition to the numerous civilian casualties, are now integral parts of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Being one of the main sources of income for the economy, Ukrainian agricultural products are in demand around the world. However, it looks like big changes are expected this year.

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International experts already predict that food prices will rise significantly in 2022, the Ukrainian harvest will be reduced by at least 20%, and people will be forced to change their eating habits.

This is how the invaders use food as a weapon, and how this threatens the whole world.

Farmers during war

In addition to problems with logistics, fuel, raw materials supply and crop sales, many of Ukraine's most fertile lands have become battlefields.

Many farmers and their subordinates are forced to risk their lives while working. The head of a farm in Kyiv Oblast, Andriy Korotkov, told CBS News that Russian invaders have long used hunger as a weapon.

"I saw it with my own eyes. They bombed our warehouses, and when they leave, they steal everything," Korotkov said.

The media has repeatedly reported on the export of several hundred tons of Ukrainian grain, the deliberate destruction of wheat fields, and the killing of livestock.

According to the World Food Program, about 45% of Ukrainians are concerned about providing themselves and their families with food.

Ukrainian Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solsky announced that the area under crops in Ukraine this season lags behind last year's figures by about 20-30%.

The structure of crops has also changed: The Ukrainian Agribusiness Club believes that many farms have reduced the area under corn in favor of sunflower, soybeans, buckwheat and other cereals. This is due to the fact that corn requires large investments per hectare compared to other crops.

Ukrainian exports

According to the magazine Nature, before the war, Ukraine and Russia were responsible for 20% of world corn exports, 30% of wheat exports, and 60% of sunflower oil exports.

In this regard, the UN predicts that Russia's military aggression could increase the number of people suffering from acute hunger by 47 million in 2022.

Dozens of countries have previously banned or restricted food exports. Poor and vulnerable countries may face the worst consequences, including inflation and food shortages.

For example, almost 30 countries, including Somalia, Senegal and Egypt, received between 50% and 100% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. If the war continues and supplies are cut off, these and other countries will be forced to borrow more to subsidize food purchases.

The World Bank's quarterly report titled "Commodity Markets Outlook" states that the cost of food will increase by about 22.9% in 2022.

"Commodity markets are experiencing one of the largest supply shocks in decades because of the war in Ukraine," said Ayhan Kose, director of the World Bank's Prospects Group, which produces the Outlook report.

"The resulting increase in food and energy prices is taking a significant human and economic toll – and it will likely stall progress in reducing poverty. Higher commodity prices exacerbate already elevated inflationary pressures around the world."

G7 statement

During the last G7 meeting, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union urged Russia to end its blockade and all the other activities that further impede Ukrainian food production and exports, in line with its international commitments.

A virtual meeting of G7 leaders was also attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"President Putin's war against Ukraine is placing global food security under severe strain,” the G7 leaders said in a statement.

“Together with the United Nations, we call on Russia to end its blockade and all other activities that further impede Ukrainian food production and exports, in line with its international commitments.

"Failure to do so will be seen as an attack on feeding the world. We will step up efforts to help Ukraine to keep producing in view of the next harvest season and exporting, including by alternative routes."

The leaders also announced various international initiatives such as the Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) and key regional outreach initiatives, including towards African and Mediterranean countries.

Losses in numbers

The information and analytical agency APK-Inform reports that prior to Russia's invasion, Ukraine exported up to 6 million tons of grain a month.

But, according to APK-Inform analysts, only 300,000 tons were shipped out in March, and 923,000 in April.

The destruction of agricultural land, as well as Russia's blocking of Ukraine's Black Sea ports, have led to declining exports of corn, wheat and oats.

A UN food official said on May 6 that nearly 25 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine and unable to leave the country.

If a solution isn't found soon, the consequences will be apocalyptic, warns Andrii Baran, who is CEO of the Ukrainian agricultural company Agroprodservice, which has more than 40,000 hectares of land.

"I think that this must be solved, and the European countries also have an interest in this," says Baran, who warns of higher food prices and hunger.

"Otherwise, if we don't provide all that food, they (the EU) will have a few more million refugees from Northern Africa."

"So now, there is a lot of work to be done with the European countries to manage somehow to create safe routes to the ports or maybe also, find out how to do it with our neighbors like Poland," said Baran. "Poland doesn't have all those facilities because they haven't worked with such volumes and we have problems with road and rail."

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that "between 20% and 30% of the areas sown to winter crops in Ukraine will remain unharvested during the 2022/23 season."

Accordingly, Ukraine and the whole world may lose up to a third of the harvest of previous years.

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