Live Updates: Ukraine rejects Mariupol’s call for surrender
The war in Ukraine has jolted global energy markets. Now the planet is facing a deeper crisis: food shortages.
A significant part of the world’s wheat, maize and barley is trapped in Russia and Ukraine because of the war, while a large part of the world’s fertilizers are trapped in Russia and Belarus. The result is rising global food and fertilizer prices. Wheat prices have risen by 21 per cent, barley by 33 per cent and some fertilizers by 40 per cent since the attack last month.
The turmoil is compounded by major challenges that were already driving up prices and decimating supplies, including pandemics, shipping bottlenecks, high energy costs and the recent droughts, floods and fires.
Now economists, aid organizations and government officials are warning of the consequences: an increase in world hunger.
The impending disaster is exposing the consequences of a major war in the modern era of globalization. Prices for food, fertilizers, oil, gas and even metals such as aluminium, nickel and palladium are rising sharply – and experts believe the effects will only get worse as they grow.
“Ukraine has caused a catastrophe on top of just a catastrophe,” said David M. Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, the United Nations agency that feeds 125 million people a day. “There’s no precedent even close to this since World War II.”
Ukrainian farms are about to miss a crucial planting and harvesting season. European fertilizer plants are cutting production significantly due to high energy prices. Farmers from Brazil to Texas are cutting fertilisers, threatening the size of the next crop.
China, facing its worst wheat crop in decades after severe floods, is planning to buy more of the world’s dwindling supply. And India, which usually exports a small amount of wheat, has already seen foreign demand more than triple last year.
Worldwide, this would result in even higher grocery bills. In February, US grocery prices were up 8.6 percent from a year earlier, the biggest increase in 40 years, according to government data. Economists expect the war to raise those prices further.
For those on the verge of food insecurity, the latest surge in prices could put many people on edge. After remaining mostly flat for five years, hunger during the pandemic rose nearly 18 percent to between 720 million and 811 million people. Earlier this month, the United Nations said the war’s impact on the global food market alone could starve an additional 7.6 million to 13.1 million people.
The cost of the World Food Program has already increased by $71 million a month, enough to cut the daily rations of 3.8 million people. “We are going to give the hungry to take food from the hungry,” said Mr. Beasley.
Rising prices and hunger also provide a potential new dimension to the world’s view of war. Can they escalate anger at Russia and demand intervention? Or will the desperation be targeted at Western sanctions that are helping to trap food and fertilizer?
While virtually every country will face high prices, some places may struggle to find enough food.
Armenia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Eritrea have imported almost all their wheat from Russia and Ukraine and must find new sources. But they are competing against much larger buyers, including Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh and Iran, which have obtained more than 60 percent of their wheat from the two warring countries.
And they will all be bidding on even less supply as China, the world’s biggest wheat producer and consumer, is expected to buy more than usual in world markets this year. On March 5, China revealed that severe floods last year had delayed the planting of a third of the country’s wheat crop, and now the upcoming harvest looks bleak.
“This year’s seed planting conditions can be called the worst in history,” China’s Agriculture Minister Tang Renjian said.
Rising food prices in poor African and Arab countries have long been a catalyst for social and political upheaval, and many subsidize staples such as bread in an effort to avoid such problems. But their economy and budget – already hit by the pandemic and high energy costs – are now at risk of buckling under the cost of food, economists said.
Tunisia was struggling to pay for some food imports before the war and is now trying to prevent an economic collapse. Inflation has already triggered protests in Morocco and is helping to spark renewed unrest and violent action in Sudan.
“Many people think this will mean that their bagels are going to be more expensive. And that is absolutely true, but that is not what it is about,” said Ben Isaacson, a longtime agricultural analyst with Scotiabank Since the 1970s, North Africa and the Middle East have been battling repeated rebellions. “What exactly caused people to take to the streets and protest?” he said. “It stemmed from food shortages and food price inflation. begins.”
Countries stricken by the protracted conflict, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Ethiopia, already face severe hunger emergencies, experts fear could quickly worsen.
In Afghanistan, aid workers have warned that the humanitarian crisis has already been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, making it more difficult to feed the nearly 23 million Afghans – more than half the population – who do not have enough to eat.
Nooruddin Zakar Ahmadi, director of Bashir Navid Complex, an Afghan import company, said prices were rising across the board. It took them five days to find cooking oil in Russia this month. He bought 15-liter cartons for $30 each and would sell them in the Afghan market for $35. Before the war, he sold them for $23.
“The United States seems to have approved only Russia and its banks,” he said. “But the United States has taken the whole world for granted.”
For the global food market, there are few worse countries in conflict than Russia and Ukraine. Over the past five years, they exported about 30 percent of the world’s wheat exports, 17 percent of corn, 32 percent of barley, an important source of animal feed, and 75 percent of sunflower seed oil, an important cooking Is. oil in some parts of the world.
Russia has been unable to export food on a large scale because sanctions have effectively cut it off economically. Meanwhile, Ukraine has been physically cut off. Russia has blocked the Black Sea for export, and Ukraine lacks enough rail cars to transport food over land.
What is becoming more worrisome now is the next crop, especially in Ukraine. On 11 March, Ukraine’s agriculture minister begged the Allies for 1,900 rail cars to fuel, saying the country’s farms were overrun after being supplied to the military. Without that fuel, he said, Ukrainian farmers would be unable to plant or harvest crops.
There are other obstacles. The United Nations estimates that up to 30 percent of Ukraine’s agricultural land could become a war zone. And with millions of Ukrainians fleeing the country or joining the front lines, very few can work in the fields.
Russian and Ukrainian wheat is not easily replaced. According to the United Nations, inventories in the United States and Canada are already tight, while Argentina is limiting exports and Australia is already at full shipping capacity. Wheat prices have risen by 69 per cent in the last one year. Among other major food exports from Russia and Ukraine, corn prices are up 36 percent and barley up 82 percent.
The war threatens to deal another long-term blow to food markets: fertilizer shortages.
Matt Hui, a farmer near Corpus Christi, Texas, said skyrocketing prices had forced him to stop applying fertilizer to the already grazing fields that nourish hundreds of his cows, assuring that They will become thinner. Now he is worried that he will also have to reduce the fertilizer for his next corn crop, which will reduce his yield. “We have reached uncharted territory,” he said.
Russia is the world’s largest fertilizer exporter, providing about 15 percent of the world’s supply. This month, as farmers around the world prepared for planting, Russia told its fertilizer producers to halt exports. The restrictions were already making such transactions difficult.
The sanctions have also affected Russia’s closest ally Belarus, a major producer of the potash-based fertiliser, important for several major crops, including soybeans and corn. But even before the Ukraine war, Belarus’s fertilizer exports were blocked because of sanctions over the seizure of a migrant dissident, a passenger in a Ryanair jetliner forced to land in the country.
In another ominous sign for fertilizer customers, earlier this month European fertilizer producers said they were slowing or halting production because of rising energy prices. Many fertilizers are made from natural gas.
The price of the world’s leading fertilizers has now doubled or more than tripled in the past year.
Brazil, the world’s largest producer of soybeans, buys about half the potash fertilizer from Russia and Belarus. Now he has only three months’ stock left. The National Soybean Farmers Association has instructed the members to use less fertilizer, if any, this season. Brazil’s soybean crop, already cut short by a severe drought, is now likely to be even smaller.
Antonio Galvan, president of the Soybean Association, criticized the international sanctions, saying “they are preventing fertilizers from going to producing countries.” “How many millions of people are starving because of lack of these fertilisers?”
Brazil sells most of its soybeans to China, which uses most of the crop to feed livestock. Fewer, more expensive soybeans could force cattle ranchers to cut back on feed for such animals, meaning smaller cows, pigs and chickens – and higher prices for meat.
John Beckhouse, a corn and soybean farmer in Hastings, Iowa, said he prepaid for fertilizer late last year because he was concerned about a growing shortage.
His fertilizer still hasn’t arrived, and he now has less than a month to apply it to his corn crop. Without it, he said, his yield would be halved.
“You know when they show cars jumping in slow motion and the passengers inside are up in the air? It seems so,” he said. “We’re all just suspended in the air, waiting for the car to land. Who knows if it’s going to be a nice, gentle landing, or if it’s going to fall into the abyss.”
Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher from Beijing; Andre Spigariol from Brasilia; najim rahim from Houston; And Safiullah Padshahi From Kabul, Afghanistan.
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