On Monday, 14 March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a “hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system” in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine.
Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. Supply chains are being disrupted. And the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels.”
He added that this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.
Poorer countries had already been struggling to recover from the lockdowns and the closing down of much of the global economy. There is now rising inflation and interest rates and increased debt burdens.
Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. Together, Russia and Ukraine produce more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and 30% of the world’s wheat.
Some 45 African and least-developed countries import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia with 18 of them importing at least 50%.
Prior to the current crisis, prices for fuel and fertilizer had been rising. It was clear before COVID and the war in Ukraine that long global supply chains and dependency on (imported) inputs and fossil fuels made the prevailing food system vulnerable to regional and global shocks.
The coronavirus lockdowns disrupted transport and production activities, exposing the weaknesses of the system. Now, due to a combination of supply disruption, sanctions and Russia restricting exports of inorganic fertilisers, the global food regime is again facing potential turmoil, resulting in food price increases and possible shortages.