Putin’s global food crisis

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Jul 19,2022 – JORDAN TIMES /

FEED THE POOR

Feeding the poor and needy is an act that draws us closer to Allah. We earn His forgiveness, mercies and blessings through this act of charity.

“Anyone who looks after and works for a widow and a poor person is like a warrior fighting for Allah?s cause, or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all night. (Bukhari)

Ruby Osman and Jacob Delorme

LONDON  —  Coming on the heels of the worsening climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and soaring energy prices, war in Europe was the last thing a fragile global food system needed. With up to 50 million people worldwide now on the brink of starvation, it is not just Ukrainians who are paying the price for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their country.

Russia’s Black Sea blockade has trapped roughly 20 million tonnes of grain in Ukrainian ports, equivalent to the annual consumption of all least-developed countries. But even if that supply is released, it will not be enough, because Putin’s invasion is just the latest blow to an already-broken global food system. The world must now prepare for a food crisis that will last years, not months.

Currently the crisis is one of pricing, with the index maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations soaring to a record high. But by this time next year, there may well be a food-availability crisis. Our new report on the Ukraine war’s global fallout looks at how disrupted planting seasons will undermine Ukraine’s agricultural exports, while a global fertiliser crunch, exacerbated by the conflict, will compromise many countries’ ability to feed themselves.

This year’s wheat harvest in Ukraine, a country that usually accounts for 10 per cent of global wheat exports, is likely to be 42 per cent lower than in 2021. Former Ukrainian agriculture minister Roman Leshchenko says that crop coverage in 2022 could be less than half pre-war levels, suggesting that the damage to next year’s harvest has already been done. And when the fighting finally ends, repairing farms, soils, and storage facilities will take years.

The food-system fallout from Russia’s invasion does not end at Ukraine’s borders. Average fertiliser prices, which surged by 80 per cent last year, have risen by a further 30 per cent since the start of 2022, owing to a combination of Russian export restrictions and Western sanctions. Chemical fertilisers are the lifeblood of modern agriculture, credited with tripling global grain production since the 1960s and enabling the most rapid global population growth in history. A global fertiliser crunch means that now, more than ever, countries increasingly need to provide for themselves.

As soaring prices in the United Kingdom and the United States show, even the developed world is not immune to the global effects of the conflict. But for many countries already teetering on the edge of instability, the situation is desperate. In Sri Lanka, where annual inflation is currently running at 54 per cent, more than 80 per cent of the population is being forced to skip meals. Similarly, hunger in the Sahel has reached record levels.

Humanitarian organisations have been affected, too. Record-high food prices and soaring transportation costs, the result of rich countries scrambling to secure non-Russian energy sources, are proving an increasingly deadly combination for the 274 million whom the UN estimates will need humanitarian aid this year.

And this is just the beginning. The 2008 and 2012 global food crises showed that food insecurity exacerbates existing problems and, in the worst cases, ignites new conflicts. Protesters in Sri Lanka, which is struggling to import food and fuel, have forced the president to resign, while Peruvian farmers have blocked roads and looted shops as fertiliser supplies are choked off. A new model from the Economist suggests that dozens of countries face a significant increase in “unrest events” such as conflict and political turmoil in the coming year, while many others could experience economic disruption. The international community needs to act now to prevent a vicious cycle from developing.

As World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley says in his foreword to our report, policymakers must not allow the war in Ukraine to overwhelm millions of families trapped in a deadly struggle against hunger. In the absence of silver bullets to solve the food crisis, the world should embark on an urgent programme of damage mitigation while maintaining a long-term perspective.

In the short term, the international community must push back against Russia’s blockade and work to establish safe passage and a naval escort for cargo ships carrying the 20 million tonnes of wheat stuck in Ukrainian ports. Concerted action is also needed to discourage knee-jerk protectionism. Since Russia’s invasion, for example, 23 countries have restricted food exports, accounting for 17.3 per cent of total traded calories.

Here, multilateral bodies such as the World Trade Organisation should encourage major economies to coordinate and release food reserves to prevent further price increases. Governments can also address the food-pricing crisis by delivering humanitarian relief to the most vulnerable and increasing funding to humanitarian organisations struggling with soaring procurement and transportation costs.

But humanitarian relief alone will not be enough to prevent the food-pricing crisis from developing into a food-availability crisis. We need to be promoting greater self-sufficiency by encouraging developing countries to diversify their sources of imports and adopt new gene-editing technologies to boost crop yields, and by helping African countries increase their fertiliser output. Many countries, including Mozambique, Togo, Tunisia and Nigeria, have significant untapped reserves of the raw materials needed to make their own fertilisers and reduce Africa’s reliance on Russian supplies.

Finally, the current crisis highlights the importance of better trade coordination. The recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area, for example, promises to boost intra-regional trade and provide some protection against future external shocks.

Putin’s weaponisation of food security is not solely responsible for the current crisis, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made a bad situation much worse. We face a long-term struggle, because we must tackle not only the Black Sea blockade but also the structural issues that left the world so vulnerable to food-supply disruptions in the first place.

Ruby Osman is senior Geopolitical Researcher at the Tony Blair Institute. Jacob Delorme is a political researcher at the Tony Blair Institute. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022. 

www.project-syndicate.org

source https://jordantimes.com/opinion/ruby-osman-and-jacob-delorme/putins-global-food-crisis

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