Global food crisis fueled by war in Ukraine could cause unrest

A new global crisis is emerging from Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the potential to starve millions, drive up food prices and spark unrest far from the conflict zone.

More than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos at Ukrainian ports as Russian blockades prevent ships from setting sail with wheat, corn and other exports. Russian forces have also been accused of stealing grain and deliberately destroying storage warehouses in Ukraine.

The grain is in danger of rotting before it reaches the Middle East and Africa, where it is desperately needed to avert a global food security crisis, which is worsening due to rising food prices, fuel and other goods.

Together, Russia and Ukraine account for more than a quarter of global wheat supplies, exporting to countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen and Somalia, among others.

“These are the most vulnerable populations in the world, so the consequences are extremely severe,” said David Ortega, food economist and associate professor at Michigan State University.

This week, Canada, the United States and their allies are holding crisis talks at the United Nations, calling on Russia to open land, rail or sea corridors so Ukrainian exports can reach their destinations — and quickly.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, top, chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on food insecurity and conflict in New York on Thursday . (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Canada is ready to send cargo ships and experts, including grain inspectors, to ports in Romania and neighboring Black Sea countries to help Ukraine. to take out his wheat.

The UN and other international agencies say tens of millions of people in developing countries will suffer from malnutrition, hunger and starvation as the prices of grain, oil and other foods soar due to of the war.

“There is enough food for everyone in the world. The problem is distribution, and it is deeply linked to the war in Ukraine,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday. , before the UN Security Council.

Warnings of potential trouble

Beyond humanitarian concerns, there are fears of rising food prices, stemming from the pandemic and severe droughts, could trigger civil unrest.

“If people can’t feed their children and families, then politics destabilizes,” said UN World Food Program director David Beasley. told CNNwarning of the potential for “riots, starvation, destabilization and then mass migration out of necessity”.

Analysts see similarities between the current situation and the spike in food prices in 2007 and 2008 that led to “food riots” around the world. Current food supply challenges have been compounded by the pandemic, experts say.

Protesters burn tires in the streets of Mozambique’s capital Maputo February 5, 2008. Anger over high food and fuel prices sparked violent unrest across the world in 2007 and 2008. (Grant Lee Neuenburg/Reuters)

“Due to the effects of COVID, food insecurity was reaching perhaps the highest levels this century,” said Caitlin Welsh, director of the global food security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

“It’s a crisis on top of a crisis. And also, this crisis right now is entirely preventable. It’s due to the decisions of a single leader,” she said, referring to the president. Russian Vladimir Putin.

However, said Welsh, while food prices may be the “spark in the powder keg” of unrest, such as the Arab Spring uprisings of the early 2010s, these movements also implied longer-term discontent with the government. with respect to governance.

Canadians are also feeling the impact of higher world wheat prices. New inflation datapublished by Statistics Canada on Wednesday, shows that the price of bread jumped 12.2% between April 2021 and last month, while the price of pasta jumped 19.6%.

A global response to a global crisis

Food security experts say the growing global food crisis requires a coordinated international response, pointing to another spike in wheat prices earlier this week after India – the world’s second largest wheat producer after China – announced that it was banning wheat exports because of the heat waves that are delaying its harvest.

A farmer carries harvested wheat on the outskirts of Jammu, India on April 28. India has announced it will ban wheat exports after a heatwave hit its production. (Channi Anand/Associated Press)

“The more overreaction there is, the more uncoordinated reaction there is. [to Ukraine’s grain situation]the higher the price spike is likely to be,” said Sophia Murphy, Canadian food policy expert and executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minnesota.

Even if Russia agrees to release grain from port silos, there are major concerns for future harvests in the country known as “Europe’s breadbasket”.

the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts this year’s wheat harvest in Ukraine will be down 35% from last year due to the war. Farmers are also struggling to access seeds for next year’s harvest, as well as fuel to run machinery, meaning countries hungry for Ukrainian grain will face limited supplies for some time. Again.

“It is extremely worrying to me that the future agricultural activity cannot develop, that the agricultural activity cannot continue and that the exports do not start … because of the effect of the war,” said Welsh.

Ortega adds that any international discussion should guarantee aid to countries that depend on Ukrainian exports because “they are the hardest hit”.

Will Russia agree to an export deal?

António Guterres said on Thursday he was still trying to negotiate a “comprehensive deal” that would allow the movement of Ukrainian exports, as well as Russian food and fertilizer exports, to reach world markets.

Ukrainian government officials and soldiers inspect a grain warehouse shelled by Russian forces near Kherson Oblast in Novovorontsovka, Ukraine, May 6. (John Moore/Getty Images)

It is unclear whether Russia will accept the proposals or what other conditions it may require.

“Russia can make it more or less easy to access the ports [but] Russia really isn’t interested in stabilizing global food prices, and they clearly have agency here,” Murphy said.

“I’m not sure the United States and Canada and even the UN have much influence on what Putin decides to do.”