By Mario Lubetkin
This is an editorial by Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General
ROME, Apr 27 2022 (IPS) – Two months after the start of the war, on February 24, the data on the substantial increase in the cost of food products, the rise in prices and shortages of fertilizers, the destruction of land and plantations in Ukraine, the sanctions, the difficulties in transporting cereals from the main breadbasket of the world, represented by Russia and Ukraine, and the massive migrations, particularly from rural areas, are just a few aspects which confirm the pessimism generated after the outbreak of the conflict.
Data released at the end of March by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicated that food prices had increased by 12.6% compared to the previous month.
This monthly increase had never been observed before this century and can only be compared to the increase of the 1980s. Cereals increased by 17.6% in one month and the prices of vegetable oils increased by more than 23%, even meat was up 4.8% from February this year.
This situation only increases the risk for the 50 low-income, food-deficit countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that derive more than 30% of their wheat from the war zone, which will now have to seek replacement producers to prevent prices from significantly affecting the economies of these countries.
Of these 50 nations, 26 derive more than 50% of their imports from these two countries in conflict.
Just think that highly populated countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, which are wheat importers, buy about 60% from Russia and Ukraine. Other countries with strong internal conflicts, such as Libya and Yemen, and countries such as Lebanon, Pakistan and Tunisia are also heavily dependent on these imports.
The dramatic situation in Ukraine, a predominantly agricultural country, has led to a concentrated effort to save as much as possible of the current crops which should be harvested in May/June, and thus avoid interrupting the production process and planting new crops. in June July.
FAO technicians have stressed that $115 million is urgently needed to prevent further deterioration of the food insecurity situation in Ukraine, to help its farmers plant vegetables and potatoes during the European spring and to try to guarantee producers minimum conditions to get to the fields and save the winter wheat harvest.
“As access, production and general availability of food deteriorates in much of Ukraine due to war, efforts to support agricultural production and the functioning of food supply chains will be essential. to avoid a crisis in 2022 and even in 2023,” said Rein Paulsen, director of FAO’s Office of Emergencies.
According to experts, if the dire situation continues, a third of crops and agricultural land may not be harvested or cultivated in 2022.
The forced displacement of civilians fleeing war and the recruitment of men into territorial defense forces lead to labor shortages and an increased burden on women, as well as reduced access to essential agricultural inputs for plantations .
The war led to the closing of ports, the suspension of oilseed crushing activities, and the introduction of export licensing restrictions and bans on certain crops and food products. Major Ukrainian cities are surrounded and continue to be heavily bombarded, leaving residents isolated and facing severe shortages of food, water and electricity.
It is difficult to think that other producing countries can significantly replace the production levels of Russia and Ukraine in the face of a disrupted export market.
Just think that Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, with Ukraine being the fifth, and together they provided 19% of the world’s barley supply, 14% wheat and 4% corn, and also accounted for 52% of the global sunflower oil market, while Russia is the world’s largest fertilizer producer.
As Pope Francis pointed out, without peace the problem of hunger will not be solved, recalling that in addition to the dramatic nature of this war in Europe, there are serious unresolved conflicts such as those in Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, and others who are also condemning several million people to starvation.
As FAO Director-General QU Dongyu has urged repeatedly since the conflict began, everything must be done to keep food and fertilizer trade open, in order to seek new and diversified food supplies.
The same effort must be made to support the most vulnerable groups, including the internally displaced, with social assistance, avoid country-specific regulatory reactions that can harm international markets in the short and medium term, contain the spread of the plague African pork, and enhance market transparency.