Great relief with Ukrainian grain out, but the food crisis is not going anywhere


When Razouni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday with the first shipment of grain since the early days of the Russian war in Ukraine, there were sighs of relief from Somalia to Turkey, Indonesia and China, given how dependent these countries are on Ukrainian. grains to meet their daily needs.

It has driven millions of people into starvation as the Russian blockade has driven up grain commodity prices, which have reached record levels this year as more than 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian wheat and corn remain trapped in Odessa.

But even as a UN-brokered agreement to lift the blockade has eased grain prices, experts say the delayed shipments from Ukraine are not a quick fix to the crisis, which has been accelerated by years of pandemic-related turmoil, the climate crisis, conflict and export restrictions. Food. and escalating costs.

All of these interacting factors “will remain for some time,” Laura Wellesley, a senior researcher in the Environment and Society Program at think-tank Chatham House, told CNN. “We may see rises in food prices again, and a peak in food insecurity, but there is certainly no solution to the situation any time soon.”

Global hunger has increased dramatically, from 135 million severely food insecure people in 2019 to 345 million in 2022, according to the World Food Program. It includes “50 million people in 45 countries who are knocking on the door of famine,” David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 20. He also called on other donor nations, such as the Gulf states, to step In “Avoid Disaster”.

Today’s crisis is much worse than the previous spikes in food prices from 2007 to 2008 and 2010 to 2012, both of which sparked riots around the world, including revolutions in the Middle East.

Food security experts have warned of huge geopolitical risks if action is not taken. This year has already seen political destabilization in “Sri Lanka, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, riots and protests in Kenya, Peru, Pakistan, Indonesia… These are only indications that things are going to get worse,” Beasley said.

In the Horn of Africa, a four-year drought has led to food insecurity and famine, according to aid groups. Somali health facilities are experiencing record levels of malnutrition after years of failed rainy seasons, doubling wheat prices and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Igabu Hassan has lost three children to malnutrition this year, and she told CNN that her two-year-old daughter collapsed and died while on her flight to the capital, Mogadishu, to seek help.

“I cried so much, I lost consciousness,” she said.

While desperate parents like Hassan seek to put off souls, the United Nations estimates that 7 million people – or more than half of Somalia’s population – simply do not have enough to eat.

Meanwhile, Afghans have seen their lives go from bad to worse since the Taliban seized power in 2021. After a precipitous US withdrawal from the country last August, Washington and its allies cut international funding to the country, which has suffered badly for years, and froze about $7 billion dollars from the country’s foreign reserves.

The economic crisis in Afghanistan has loomed for years as a result of poverty, conflict and drought. But this year, as below-average crops have led to unprecedented levels of hunger across the country, long queues for help are everywhere even in middle-class neighborhoods of the capital, Kabul.

The prolonged conflict in countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan has affected people’s ability to access food, and the climate crisis is exacerbating the situation. Droughts in major crop-producing regions, such as Europe and North America, have driven up food prices.

This 2-year-old is unable to walk. He’s one of the six million on the brink of starvation

Severe weather across parts of North Africa is a frightening reminder that the food supply here is very unsafe anyway, blockade or not. The region depends on wheat from Europe, especially Ukraine. Tunisia, for example, gets nearly half of its wheat from the country to make its daily bread.

Data from EarthDaily Analytics, obtained using satellite imagery, shows how difficult it is for some countries here to cover any gap themselves. Looking at the crop cover in Morocco, the images indicate a “disastrous wheat season” in the country, with much lower production than in recent years, due to the drought that began there at the end of 2021 and continued until early this year.

Morocco gets a fifth of its wheat production from Ukraine and 40% more than France, according to Mikael Attia, crop analyst at EarthDaily Analytics.

Fatima Abdullah reaches out to touch her 8-month-old daughter Abdi, who was hospitalized with severe malnutrition in Somalia in July.

“The current drought in North Africa, specifically Morocco, is greatly affecting their ability to produce their crops, not to mention that Ukraine was in the past one of the largest exporters of food to the country. The cost of replacing that is very high and difficult,” Attia told CNN.

“The country needs to import for structural reasons – every year the national consumption is much higher than production – and because the country is regularly exposed to massive weather events, drought and climate change will only make matters worse in the future.”

Ukraine’s wheat production is also expected to be 40% lower than last year, as its fields were affected by the war; Fertilizers and pesticides are difficult to obtain; But also because of the pattern of early spring cold and drought in the west of the country, Attia said, adding that the effects could continue into next year.

“If Ukrainian grain is partially or materially missing due to reduced production and export difficulties, it will lead to increased food insecurity this year and next,” he said.

Other major wheat-exporting countries have also been severely affected by extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change. Attia said France should produce 8% less wheat compared to last year.

“May was dry in most of Europe, and it was very hot in Western Europe, which affected crops from France and Spain in particular,” Attia said. “June was also a dry and hot month across much of Europe, which accelerated crop declines in France, Spain and Romania.”

Meanwhile, efforts by many countries to alleviate food insecurity due to the pandemic have faltered. The global economy has plunged into a recession in 2020, upending supply chains and causing problems with employment and transportation. Wellesley, of Chatham House, said governments are starting to face inflationary pressures and global food prices are starting to rise with production disruptions and rising demand from countries like China “really tightening the balance between supply and demand and raising prices”.

She added that the economies of poor countries were left in tatters while middle-income countries incurred significant debt, limiting the ability of their governments to provide social safety nets and provisions that would help the most vulnerable during a food supply crisis.

In Peru and Brazil, people working in the large informal jobs sector have lost their savings and earning capacity during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic. “So these people have moved from the middle classes to the poor…in Brazil, the number of people living in acute food insecurity is very high,” Maximo Torero, chief economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told CNN.

In 2021, 36% of Brazilians were at risk of starvation, exceeding the global average for the first time, according to Getulio Vargas (FGV), a Brazilian academic institution, which analyzed Gallup data.

A Ukrainian farmer works at a warehouse in Odessa, southern Ukraine, in July.

The war brought home the number of people and countries who had become dependent on a complex and globalized system of goods. Europe’s dependence on Russian gas has exposed its weaknesses. While countries like Turkey, Egypt, Somalia, Congo and Tanzania are some of the most dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat, countries like Eritrea bought grain exclusively from the two countries in 2021.

Analysts point out that the supply chain crisis could lead to more local or regional supply strategies – but this could take some time.

“Let me give you an example – Africa uses 3% of the fertilizer in the world,” Torero said, yet the Dangote fertilizer plant in Nigeria sends 95.5% of its products to Latin America. “Nothing remains in Africa. It’s not that () the Dangote factory doesn’t want to export in Africa, it’s (because of) there are a lot of barriers to export (to other parts) of Africa,” he said, adding that the infrastructure was weak and the stakes high.

Going the other way and imposing protectionist policies is also problematic. With food prices soaring in the wake of the Russian invasion, countries began to restrict exports. India, the world’s largest sugar producer, has limited its sugar exports to 10 million tons and banned wheat exports. Today, more than 20 countries have some kind of export restrictions in place, dashing hopes that these items might help alleviate hunger elsewhere.

“This has an immediate effect on raising prices, but over time, it kind of erodes confidence and predictability in the global market,” Wellesley said.

Then there is the issue of fertilizer prices, which remain high because their production requires significant energy, and Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of their main components: urea, potash and phosphate.

Some analysts warn that as fertilizer use declines, we will see lower returns in 2023. While the main concern has been on grain supplies, some are concerned about rice production, a cornerstone of many diets in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. , can be damaged amid rising fertilizer costs.

Even if there are high stocks of rice at the moment, protectionism and people turning to rice as an alternative to wheat can affect prices. “Sub-Saharan Africa imports most of the rice in the world, so if the price of rice goes up, the most vulnerable countries will be hit hard,” said Torero of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

An Afghan woman receives her family's monthly ration of basic foodstuffs from a World Food Program distribution point in Jai Rais district, west of Kabul.

The vessel “Razzoni”, registered in Sierra Leone and currently en route to Lebanon, is carrying about 26,500 metric tons of corn. “To meet shipping levels in August 2021, we’ll have to see seven of these ships happen each day until things really go back to where we were,” Jonathan Haines, chief analyst at commodity data group Gro Intelligence, told CNN. He added that there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether that could happen, but that the flow undoubtedly “will really go up”.

The Ukrainian government and Turkey’s defense ministry said three more ships were expected to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Friday with grain.

When wheat prices fall to pre-war levels, Torero worries that the return of Ukrainian and Russian grain to the market could lower wheat prices further, impoverishing poor farmers, who have endured higher fertilizer and energy costs to grow their crops.

Just as the food crisis has had wide and varied effects on people, the solutions are complex and multifaceted. These include improvements in how fertilizers are used, investments in social safety nets, decoupling food production from dependence on fossil fuels while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and a push to make the agricultural sector more resilient to global shocks by diversifying productive and trade relationships, experts say.

“These all seem to be things that need to be addressed another day given the severity of the current situation,” Wellesley said. “They are problems that contribute to the current situation (and will recur over the coming years – particularly as climate impacts continue to worsen.”

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