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Collapsing economies to spark global food crisis

global food crisis
COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, a fertilizer shortage, and climate change have broken our food systems

The price of lemons has risen in India. In Nigeria, jollof rice has increased in price to the point where many are skipping meals. The cost of avocados has increased in Mexico, making them a luxury few can afford. The Florida orange orchards are producing the fewest fruits in recent years. A lack of salmon is also affecting the sushi industry in Japan.

Zoom out, and it’s obvious: A global food crisis is developing, and prices are skyrocketing everywhere. And when that occurs, everyone is hurt. When the price of tickets or petrol rises, people can cut back on going to the movies or driving, but everyone needs to eat.

The long-brewing crisis finally brought to a climax by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is already having a significant impact. Protests against a rise in the price of food and petrol in Peru turned violent in April. In July, protests against a lack of food, gasoline, and medical supplies broke out in the streets, Sri Lanka’s government fell, and its people overthrew its president.

Experts warn that the problem might have severe global repercussions without immediate action. Changes in the food supply in some nations may cause the traditional recipes and practices to shift. The spread of civil unrest might lead to instability and perhaps wars in some of the most impoverished parts of the planet. A failure in the food systems could trigger massive waves of migration.

Pricing crisis causing food problem

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, food prices worldwide have risen sharply. For example, US consumer prices increased 10% year over year as of May, the most since 1981, and by a record 8.9% in the Eurozone. Unfortunately, globally, the situation is considerably worse: as of June, the UN’s world food price index had increased by 23% compared to 2021. Simply put, many people are having trouble paying for food.

Chris Barrett, an economist and authority on food policy at Cornell University, told Insider that “a food crisis is a price problem.” Even if people are not immediately aware of it, he claimed that it has broad consequences and affects everyone’s life.

“You should pay attention to the food problem, because it is lurking in the background, driving those things,” Barrett said. “If you worry about domestic politics, if you worry about environmental issues, if you worry about immigration matters, if you worry about diplomacy in the military.”

Global groups are issuing increasingly urgent and louder warnings. According to the UN World Food Programme, fifty million people worldwide are in danger of going hungry and facing famine, which the WFP head has dubbed a “looming hunger disaster.”

Collection of problems bunched together

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin broke the world’s food supply chain. According to the WFP, Russia, and Ukraine supplied 70% of the world’s sunflowers, 20% of maize, and 30% of the wheat marketed globally before the war.

Not only have farms been destroyed by the battle. Putin’s forces have blocked the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, preventing the export of crucial agricultural goods. In addition, oil prices have increased by more than 40% in 2022 due to the conflict and the ensuing Western sanctions against Russia, which have driven up energy costs and, in turn, the price of fertilizer.

“This issue could easily extend into next year,” said Wayne Gordon, a senior commodities strategist at UBS, “because if you’re a Ukrainian producer and your domestic price is, say, half of what it is on a global basis, your incentive or your ability to plant the next crop has been curtailed significantly due to poor margins, as you are still paying high prices for inputs.”

Although the Ukrainian conflict was the initial cause of the crisis, other reasons have been building for a while. The pressure on the world food system has increased recently because of factors including climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the increase in international conflicts.

The climate issue is to blame for the warning indicators that existed long before the Russian invasion. For instance, a severe drought in the Black Sea region in 2011 led to a rise in the cost of food, especially wheat. Many observers cited it as a factor in the upheaval that led to the Arab Spring. There are “clear parallels” between the current drought and the one that occurred in 2011, according to Samuel Tilleray, a sovereign credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings.

According to a UN report from last year, up to 30% of current farmland may no longer be suitable for growing crops by the end of the century due to greenhouse gas emissions’ impact on weather patterns.

The entire world is already aware of it. For example, severe drought has reduced wheat production in important states like Kansas, and drought in South America, which reduced soybean production, has caused cooking oil prices to soar globally.

The pandemic also didn’t make things much better. Governments all over the world, according to Cornell’s Barrett, are “trying to revive economies struggling under the weight of the pandemic.” Still, supply-chain disruptions are rife, and prices for oil and ocean freight are skyrocketing. He claimed that as a result, prices were continuing to rise because supply was not keeping up with demand.

In response to the world food crisis, Annabel Symington, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme, said, “Things were already really strained, and now we are facing even greater strain.” It’s a collection of problems coming together.

Situation affects you

A vital component of any community’s culture is its food. Civil unrest may emerge if that component becomes insufficient or disappears entirely. The international price of wheat, milk, and meat increased in 2008, forcing significant producers to impose an export ban to ensure that domestic populations would continue to have access to food.

Ten people died in Morocco in 2008 protesting food shortages, which sparked a wave of strikes and rallies. The same year, 10,000 laborers in Bangladesh rioted against rising food prices by damaging factories and smashing cars. According to experts, it seems unlikely that this time will be any different.

According to Barrett, “Periods of high food prices are related and directly associated with an increased frequency of violence, political disturbance, and social discontent.”

“Additionally, they have a causal connection to higher levels of forced migration. People leave their homes in quest of food when they are unable to feed their families there. Additionally, some of those migrations are very dangerous.”

However, governments may use short-term and long-term solutions to ensure that people have food. According to Symington of the World Food Programme, governments should make every effort to reduce the growing risk of famine in the world’s most vulnerable areas. According to Barrett, there should always be automatic safety-net mechanisms in place to guarantee financial resources are available if somebody experiences food insecurity.

Longer term, Symington argued, government leaders and international organizations should promote a transition toward increased local food production, reducing reliance on global supply networks. To stop “crazy price gyrations,” Barrett urged the World Trade Organization to stabilize export prices.

However, no matter what steps the government takes, life will become more expensive for all of us and much harder for billions of people. Even if you have enough food for yourself, your family, and your neighbors, Barrett added, “you are still affected by this.”

Already lagging behind

The World Bank has cautioned that the crisis in Ukraine will cause 50 million people to experience severe hunger and an extra 95 million to live in extreme poverty in 2022.

“Since we already didn’t fulfill our food security goals by 2020, let’s be honest. The situation is now difficult, though,” Mr. Shahid remarked.

“The shocks of numerous global crises have undermined our economies and institutions and hampered our capacity to respond in a timely manner.”

He emphasized that despite this dire situation, nations must not give up. Instead, they must band together to address the causes of hunger and malnutrition and the symptoms of both.

The necessity to prioritize food security in the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states was also emphasized by Mr. Shahid. These nations’ citizens “are typically forced to spend a larger share of their income on basic necessities, including food, and are thus disproportionately affected by rising food prices,” he said.

Relationships, not seclusion

Following the suggestions made at the UN Food Systems Summit  in 2021, these nations also require assistance in sustainably transforming their food systems.

According to Mr. Shahid, as nations adopt more environmentally friendly and sustainable food practices, they must also consider food security as a component of a larger multilateral agenda that acknowledges both the interrelatedness of today’s challenges and the futility of trying to solve them individually or exclusively.

Food systems must be able to offer accessible, inclusive, and healthy diets at reasonable prices. Additionally, they must become a potent force for eradicating hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition.

Scaling up climate resilience throughout food systems, bolstering food environments, and altering consumer behavior to support eating patterns that have favorable effects on both human health and the environment are among the steps we must take right away, he said.

“Securing sustainable agriculture, repairing our relationship with nature, and strengthening the international institutions working to alleviate poverty and hunger are also necessary for addressing food security,” the UN said.

An important moment

Along with the Committee on World Food Security and the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy, and Finance of the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Shahid organized the high-level special event.

António Guterres, the head of the UN, thanked the partners for cooperating during “this important moment” in a video message to the gathering, stressing that the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity has doubled in the last two years.

The possibility of numerous famines is dire. The year 2023 maybe even worse. But if we take action right once, we can avert this tragedy, said Mr. Guterres.

The Secretary-General emphasized the importance of maintaining open international trade and swiftly reintegrating agricultural output from Russia, Ukraine, and other countries into global markets.

Additionally, he urged rapid resource unlocking to improve social protection and aid smallholder farmers in becoming more productive and self-sufficient. He also advocated for addressing the financial crisis in developing countries.

Countries must overhaul their food systems to make affordable, healthy, and sustainable diets accessible to everyone, everywhere.

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