The Latest Casualty of the Russo-Ukrainian War: Global Food Security

It seems no one truly accounted for just how far the ripples of the Russo-Ukrainian War will wade out. Now we are seeing another one of its bobbing crests appear in supermarkets across the globe as we teeter precariously toward a global food shortage crisis. Experts and policymakers alike are scrambling to find the cause, only to discover that it is not just one definite cause, but an interconnected line of set dominoes that continue to topple each other toward a direction of hunger and food insecurity. On its own, the war in Ukraine would have caused strain no doubt, with Russia being the largest exporter of fertilizers and Ukraine a large exporter of grain. However, compounded with years of weak yields caused by global warming induced climatic shifts, the war and the lasting effects of COVID-19 are enough to catapult us into dangerous territory.

The war in Ukraine already impacted the lives of those who live on the other side of the globe, with some of the world’s most vulnerable economies feeling the weight of the increase in oil and gas prices the hardest. Now the fighting is taking aim at a different type of fuel: the grain that makes up the largest portion of many diets across the globe. The Black Sea region is considered the breadbasket of the world, since it is a major contributor to grain export globally. As a primary provider of several staple crops in the world market — including corn, wheat, maize, and barley — the Russian blockade of major ports in Ukraine has made it incredibly difficult to obtain exports. The conflict is also threatening future food security due to the uncertainty Ukrainian farmers face. Barley, sunflower, and maize are currently in their planting season while many farmers are fleeing their fields for safety. As farmers approach the summer seeding month for grain, it is unlikely all farmers in the region will be able to plant crops, a trend that will continue as long as active conflict continues.

It is not just the war’s impact on Ukraine that is causing a strain on global food security. Russia is currently the world’s largest producer of the fertilizers that farmers across the globe so desperately depend on. From the Midwest to Brazil, all farmers felt the pinch of higher costs for fertilizer caused by supply chain shortages in 2020 and 2021. Now, many farmers are unable to even obtain fertilizer, as sanctions prevent the precious commodity from leaving Russian borders. This directly causes farmers to grow less, simply because of the amount of fertilizer that is available on hand. Growing less means harvesting less and less food to go around. The U.N. predicts that this will drastically undercut their efforts to reduce global hunger. “We’re planting less to try to survive. To live another year,” Arnusch, an American farmer, told local news. “Consumers, without question, are going to feel the pinch at the grocery store.”

Climate change is also playing its hand, contributing its own unique havoc to exacerbate a desperate situation. Droughts from India to the Orange State have influenced crop yields over the past decade. The disaster that researchers have been predicting for years is unfolding before our eyes. Climatologists are recording more frequent and longer droughts in many designated breadbasket regions of the world.  Global climate change, COVID-19 and now the Russo-Ukrainian War are putting pressure on our food production systems, revealing their breaking points. This will no doubt mean that the most painful consequences will fall on developing economies and low-income households. In the second quarter of 2020 and in December 2021, the price of wheat increased by 18 percent. Farmer John Boyd Jr., President of the National Black Farmers Association, told audiences, “We’re gonna see a lot of empty shelves and a lot more higher prices.” This is the last thing that any American wants to hear, as inflation in food products has been ongoing since the onset of the pandemic. “In 2023, you will have a food shortage problem,” David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Programme, said at a conference on May 12. The U.N. predicts 50 million people, particularly those in Africa and the Middle East, will face hunger in the upcoming months. Several countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, and Cameroon who depended on Ukraine and Russia for wheat imports, will be hit by food shortages first and hardest.  At a recent G7 conference, a willingness was expressed to talk to Russia about allowing the export of grain supplies from Ukraine, along with other discussions about political resolve to the war itself. There has been no positive response from Moscow on any of those fronts. The lack of developments on this matter is the most startling development as we continue on a trajectory that leaves millions hungry.

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