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The state of food insecurity

As a result of stiff Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, Russia’s renewed assault on Ukraine has descended into a war of attrition. Russian aggression shows no signs of abating, nor does the resolve of the Ukrainians’ defence. Arming Ukraine and broader strategic concerns in shoring up Euro-Atlantic security will continue to be the priority of governments across the globe, but the unfolding food security crisis requires serious attention.

Ukraine is the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat, fourth largest exporter of corn, and largest exporter of oil seeds. The ongoing war has halted farming production for the ensuring agricultural season, causing extreme crop shortages, increased food prices, and escalating levels of fuel and fertiliser costs around the world. It is estimated[↗] that the global supply market could experience around a 10%-50% drop of vital agrarian products as a result of the war.

Before Russia’s renewed offensive, Ukraine exported[↗] over 3.5 million tons of grain per month. Since the Russian invasion, however, only around 300,000 tons have been shipped out. This is a dramatic decrease, and made even more troubling by the fact that a lot of Ukraine’s grain exports go to vulnerable developing countries which fall into the Low-Income Food-Deficit Country[↗] (LIFDC) bracket.

When looking at wheat, the seriousness of the crisis can be seen. Egyptians consume approximately 37% of their calories from wheat, and 25% of their wheat imports come from Ukraine. Yemen – already embroiled in a civil war – imports nearly 15% of its wheat from Ukraine. As well as obvious supply issues, rising wheat prices will have severe ramifications. Food security issues led to protests in Egypt in 2010 that arguably contributed to the wider ‘Arab Spring’ movement of the time.

To make matters worse, Russia is actively abetting the food security crisis. Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure has been targeted[↗] by Russian forces and airstrikes. Mines have been distributed[↗] throughout Ukrainian fields, something that requires an arduous clean-up operation and leaves farming unsafe until then. And, the most cynical developments of all, Russia is blockading[↗] Ukraine’s main export avenues in the Black Sea. This has forced Ukrainian exports to take land routes that are not only slow, but insufficient for the volume of products available to export. Indeed, Ukrainian farmers are fast running out[↗] of storage for harvested produce.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, has accused[↗] the Kremlin of attempting to use global hunger as a weapon to further their interests in Ukraine. It is becoming increasingly clear this is true.

The support given by Poland and Romania to export Ukrainian grain via land corridors is a fortunate move, but these land avenues simply cannot supply enough to meet global demand. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has refrained from establishing maritime convoys for ships exporting Ukrainian grain due to the risk of escalation; however, Russia’s withdrawal from Snake Island does provide a lower risk path than what was previously available.

It is imperative that interested powers come together and approach the current crisis with positive solutions that attempt to avoid looming catastrophe. The Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, created[↗] by the United Nations with support from the foreign secretaries/ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), as well as the High Representative of the European Union (EU), is a great first step into solving the worsening state of food insecurity globally, as is Lithuania’s naval plan[↗] to end the blockade.

A coherent plan to address the evident food security issues stemming from Ukraine is needed more than ever. Not only is the Ukrainian economy and population suffering, but as are many LIFDCs. This is a problem which will also affect the UK; already, major British supermarkets are rationing[↗] cooking oil. It is time to face Russia down; the UK should intensify efforts to end the blockade of Ukraine’s ports.

Haley Szramoski was the Charles Pasley intern at the Council on Geostrategy.

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