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Insights into Editorial: The Ukraine war and the global food crisis

 

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Current events of national and international importance, food insecurity, Ukraine-Russia war.
  • Mains GS Paper II: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora. Food Insecurity, Migration issues.

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS:

Global food prices are on the rise. Ukraine and its allies accuse Russia of weaponizing food, saying that its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is the primary reason for the rising prices, while Russia has blamed Western sanctions for the crisis.

Now, several Ukrainian port cities are under Russian control and have thus brought exports from Ukraine to a grinding halt.

While Russia’s food and fertilizer sectors are not directly targeted by western sanctions, the sanctions on its financial sector, which makes payments difficult for Russia, have complicated its exports, including food grains

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE:

 

Context

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions on its economy have sent global food prices soaring, threatening to push millions of people, especially those in low-income countries, into starvation.

Ukraine and its allies in the West have accused Russia of weaponising food, saying that its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is the primary reason for the rising prices, while Moscow has blamed Western sanctions for the crisis.

 

How serious is the food crisis?

Many countries were facing growing food insecurity even before Russia’s war.

Climate shocks, conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted supply chains, pumping up prices of both commodities and crops.

 

Global Report on Food Crises 2022:

  1. An annual report named Global Report on Food Crises 2022 was launched by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC).
  2. The report is the flagship publication of the GNAFC and is facilitated by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN).
  3. Around 40 million more people globally experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 2021 than 2020.
  4. Over half a million Ethiopians, southern Madagascar, South Sudanese and Yemenese are suffering from acute food insecurity.
  5. Over 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 2021.

 

What is causing the crisis?

  1. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, Ukraine had the capacity to export up to six million tonnes of wheat, barley and maize a month, mainly through its ports in the Black Sea/Sea of Azov.
  2. According to the WFP, In the eight months before the war, some 51 million tonnes of grain were exported through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
  3. But exports have collapsed since the invasion as the Russian war effort is entirely focused on Ukraine’s eastern and southern parts along the Black Sea/Sea of Azov coast.
  4. Now, several Ukrainian port cities, including Mariupol, Kherson and Berdyansk, are under Russian control.
  5. Although the southern cities of Mykolaiv and Odessa, which is known as the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’, are still with the Ukrainians, commercial ships cannot dock at these ports because of two reasons — Ukraine has mined the waters around these ports as a deterrent against potential Russian attacks and Russia has enforced a naval blockade in the waters of the Black Sea.
  6. These factors have in effect brought exports from Ukraine to a grinding halt.
  7. According to Ukrainian authorities, more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in warehouses and containers.

 

In addition to Food crisis, Fertilizer crisis also exists:

  1. Besides the blockade, the western sanctions on Russia are also contributing to the crisis.
  2. Russia, besides being the world’s top wheat exporter, is also a leading exporter of fertilizer, an essential commodity for food production.
  3. Russia and its ally Belarus together account for some 38% of potassic fertilizers, 17% of compound fertilizers, and 15% of nitrogenous fertilizers.
  4. Fertilizer prices are also on the rise, which would make food production costlier.
  5. Russia’s food and fertilizer sectors were not directly targeted by western sanctions, but the sanctions on its financial sector, which made payments difficult for Russia, has complicated its exports, including food grains.
  6. Also, the targeted sanctions on Russian oligarchs have choked finances for the agricultural industry.

 

Food Crisis aggravated round the world due to Ukraine-Russia war:

  1. The war in Ukraine has aggravated this situation. As of June 1, 2022, the Agricultural Price Index was 40% higher compared to January 2021, according to the World Bank.
  2. Maize and wheat prices rose 42% and 60%, respectively, from the levels of January 2021.
  3. Global food, fuel and fertilizer prices are projected to be sharply higher this year and will remain elevated into 2024, the Bank estimates.
  4. Almost all economies in the world have been hit by higher food prices. Across the western world, there’s a cost-of-living crisis with food and energy prices rocketing.
  5. In the U.S., the country was facing “unacceptable levels of inflation” which would stay so in the coming years. In the U.K., inflation numbers have already hit a 40-year high.
  6. Almost 90% of emerging markets and developing economies experienced food price inflation greater than 5% this year.
  7. Low-income countries that are reliant on imports for basic food consumption, are the hardest hit.
  8. According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen remain at ‘highest alert’ as hotspots with “catastrophic conditions”, as Afghanistan and Somalia are added to this category.

 

How important are Russia and Ukraine for global food security?

  1. Russia and Ukraine together account for more than a quarter of the world’s wheat supplies.
  2. Russia’s share in the global exports of wheat, the world’s most widely grown crop, is some 20%, while Ukraine accounts for 8%, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
  3. Wheat is a staple food for at least 35% of the world’s population, as per the estimates of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  4. About 50 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than 30% of their wheat imports, according to the FAO.
  5. If Azerbaijan and Georgia source more than 80% of their imported wheat from Russia and Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh and Lebanon meet over 60% of their imports from these two countries.
  6. Besides wheat, Ukraine is the world’s eighth largest producer and fourth largest exporter of corn, accounting for 16% of global exports.
  7. Furthermore, Ukraine, which produces up to 46% of sunflower-seed and safflower oil is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil.

So, the war and the sanctions have clearly hit the world’s bread basket region, adding pressure on food prices.

 

Way out solutions:

  1. Russia has suggested that it would resume exports (not sure whether Ukrainian or Russian grains) from the ports on the Sea of Azov that it controls (Mariupol and Berdyansk) and that it would open a corridor for commercial vessels in the Black Sea if Ukraine demines the ports it controls (mainly Odessa and Mykolaiv).
  2. Ukraine, however, is sceptical, saying it doesn’t trust Moscow. No breakthrough has been achieved so far.
  3. Ukraine has little good options to ship its grains out of the country if its ports remain blockaded.
  4. One option is to transfer the grains overland to the Baltic states, either through Poland or Belarus, and then ship them out from the Baltic Sea ports.

 

Conclusion:

Moving them overland via Poland is challenging because the rail track gauge in Poland is smaller than that of former Soviet countries such as Ukraine.

The Baltic states — this means cargoes will have to be moved to different trains at the Polish-Ukraine border and then again at the Polish-Lithuania border to start exporting them from the Baltic ports.

So, the only practical solution to take Ukrainian grains to the global markets is to open the Black Sea routes.

To ease the pressure on global food items, Russia will also have to step up exports of both grains and fertilizers.

For this, Kyiv and its allies may have to strike a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Russia-Ukraine has launched a grain war, stoking a global food crisis. Elaborate. (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)