War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

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The war between Russia, the world’s largest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine, the fifth largest, is accentuating the rise in grain prices and threatening the world with a major food crisis.

Will the war in Ukraine cause a major world food crisis? A crisis capable of triggering famines, particularly on the African continent due to a shortage of wheat or other cereals? This dire prospect could become a reality in a few weeks, as NATO, G7 and European Union leaders measured at three summits on Thursday and yesterday.

Russia is the largest exporter of wheat and Ukraine is in fifth place

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has expressed deep concern as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many challenges to global food security in the past two years. “Russia and Ukraine occupy important places in the world production and supply of food products. Russia is the largest exporter of wheat and Ukraine is in fifth place.

War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

On a global scale, these two countries together provide 19% of the barley supply, 14% of the wheat supply, and 4% of the corn supply, and account for more than a third of world grain exports. They are also major suppliers of rapeseed, also accounting for 52% of world sunflower oil exports. The world supply of fertilizers is also extremely concentrated, with Russia being the main producer”, Qu Dongyu, director general of the FAO, has just recalled, considering that “the disruptions suffered by the production and supply chains of cereals and oilseeds, and the restrictions imposed on exports from Russia, will have a significant impact on food security. »

Fifty countries threatened

And to cite the case of the fifty countries that depend on wheat imports and obtain 30% or more of their wheat from Russia and the Ukraine. “Many of them, located in North Africa, Asia and the Near East, are less developed or low-income countries with food deficits. Many countries in Europe and Central Asia receive more than 50% of their fertilizers from Russia, and the shortage in these countries could last until next year”, specifies the director.

War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, relies on supplies of 61% Russian wheat and 23% Ukrainian wheat.

Wheat is the staple food for more than 35% of the world’s population; one can imagine the nutritional and social consequences that the lack of this cereal could have. “Countries whose wheat consumption depends on their imports are likely to step them up, adding further pressure on global supplies. Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh and Iran, which are the largest importers of wheat, buy more than 60% of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia and import very large quantities. Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan are also heavily dependent on these two countries for their wheat supply,” adds Qu Dongyu.

If the June harvests seem compromised in Ukraine – exile of the inhabitants, impossibility of access to the fields, destruction of infrastructure, Ukrainian Black Sea ports closed – in Russia, for the time being, the Russian Black Sea ports remain open, and no major disruptions to agricultural production are expected in the short term. But financial sanctions against the country could prevent exports.

“It is not yet clear if other exporting countries could fill this gap. Wheat stocks are already at a low level in Canada, and exports from the United States, Argentina and other countries will likely be constrained as governments in these countries work to secure supplies for their domestic market,” Qu says. Dongyu.

Europe on the move

In fact, Europe has just taken “measures in favor of global food security and support for farmers and consumers in the Union. “When it comes to food, it is time for Europe to show solidarity and help Ukraine, its people and farmers, as well as vulnerable food-importing countries facing rising prices and potential shortages.” explains Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President. -President of the Commission. This notably freed up €300 million for Ukraine and €500 million for European producers. It has also adopted an exceptional and temporary exception to authorize the production of any crop intended for human and animal consumption on set-aside land; and decided on specific flexibility regarding current feed import requirements. These last two points have been widely criticized by advocates of greener agriculture.

War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

War in Ukraine: Towards a world food crisis

Finally, on Thursday “as president of the Council of the EU and in relation to the African Union”, Emmanuel Macron proposed to the G7 an “initiative for food security” with an “emergency plan for the release of stocks in the event of a crisis to avoid any situation of shortages and moderate price increases”.

It remains to be seen whether these mechanisms will suffice if the war in Ukraine continues…

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