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14 March 2022

War in Ukraine threatens to create a global food crisis

Grains, fertiliser and fuel are soaring in price.

By Nicu Calcea

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is threatening food security across the world, with prices for energy, fertiliser and food reaching all-time highs, New Statesman analysis found.

The price of wheat on global markets reached a peak of more than $16.20 a bushel this month (March), more than double the price a year before. The increase was spurred by soaring costs of oil and gas, as well as a global fertiliser shortage.

Ukraine and Russia supply nearly a third of the world’s wheat, as well as being major exporters of other grains. The war will also impact how food is grown in the UK and elsewhere, because Russia is the world’s largest export of fertiliser (nitrogen fertiliser is made from natural gas, of which Russia is a major source).  

Trade blocks around the Black Sea and sanctions against Russia have forced importers to scramble for alternative suppliers of food and fertilisers. This has only exacerbated pre-existing issues of low stockpiles due to poor weather and supply chain disruption.

As stockpiles run out, many countries have imposed restrictions on exports of certain crops, putting many developing countries at risk of food shortages -- particularly those in North Africa and the Middle East, which are more reliant on exports from Ukraine and Russia. Similar food shortages were one of the causes of the Arab Spring, the series of anti-government protests in the 2010s. 

In an article for the Washington Post, David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said: “Ukrainian wheat moved swiftly on the conveyor belt of international markets and to our humanitarian operations for other countries beset by war, […] where millions teeter on the edge of starvation. That conveyor belt now turns in reverse, as the WFP mobilises to assist more than three million Ukrainians inside and outside the country.”

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