The war in Ukraine has been catastrophic for world food prices, writes Vijay Prashad. But the problem didn’t start then.
By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, reports that, every minute, a child is pushed into hunger in 15 countries most ravaged by the global food crisis.
Twelve of these countries are in Africa (from Burkina Faso to Sudan), one is in the Caribbean (Haiti) and two are in Asia (Afghanistan and Yemen). Wars without end have degraded the ability of the state institutions in these countries to manage cascading crises of debt and unemployment, inflation and poverty. Joining the two Asian countries are the states that make up the Sahel region of Africa (especially Mali and Niger), where the levels of hunger are now almost out of control. As if the situation were not sufficiently dire, an earthquake struck Afghanistan last week, killing over a thousand people – yet another devastating blow to a society where 93 percent of the population has slipped into hunger.
In these crisis-hit countries, food aid has come from governments and the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP). Millions of refugees in these countries are almost entirely reliant upon U.N. agencies. The WFP provides ready-to-use therapeutic food, which is a food paste made of butter, peanuts, powdered milk, sugar, vegetable oil, and vitamins. Over the next six months, the cost of these ingredients is projected to rise by up to 16 percent, which is why on June 20, the WFP announced that it would cut rations by 50 percent.
This cut will impact 3-of-every-4 refugees in East Africa, where about 5 million refugees live. “We are now seeing the tinderbox of conditions for extreme levels of child wasting begin to catch fire,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
Clearly, the spike in hunger is related to the food price inflation, which itself has been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are the world’s leading exporters of barley, corn, rapeseed, sunflower seed, sunflower oil and wheat, as well as fertilizers.
While the war has been catastrophic for world food prices, it is an error to see the war as the cause of the spike. World food prices began to rise about 20 years ago, and then went out of control in 2021 for a range of reasons, including:
- During the pandemic, the severe lockdowns inside countries and at their borders led to majordisruptions in the movement of migrant labor. It is by now well-established that migrant labor – including refugees and asylum seekers – plays a key role in agricultural production. Anti-immigrant sentiment and the lockdowns have created a long-term problem on large-scale farms.
- A consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic was thebreakdown of the supply chain. As China – the epicenter of a considerable volume of global manufacturing – pursued a zero-Covid policy, this set in motion a cascading problem for international shipping; with the lockdowns, ports closed and ships remained at sea for months on end. The return of international shipping to near normalcy and the return of industrial production – including fertilizers and food – has been slow. Food supply chains withered due to the logistics problems, but also due to staff shortages at processing plants.
- Extreme weather events have played a major role in the chaos of the food system. In the past decade, between 80 and 90 percent of naturaldisasters have been due to droughts, floods, or severe storms. Meanwhile, over the past 40 years, the planet has lost 12 million hectares of arable land each year to drought and desertification; during this period, we have also lost a third of our arable land to erosion or pollution.
- Over the past 40 years, global meat consumption (mostly poultry) increased dramatically, with theincreases set to continue rising despite some indications that we have reached “peak meat consumption.” Meat production has an enormous environmental footprint: 57 percent of total emissions from agriculture come from meat, while livestock production takes up 77 percent of the planet’s agricultural land (even though meat only contributes 18 percent of the global calorie supply).
The world food market was already stressed before the conflict in Ukraine, with prices going up during the pandemic to levels that many countries had not seen before. However, the war has almost broken this weakened food system. The most significant problem is in the world fertilizer market, which was resilient during the pandemic but is now in a crisis: Russia and Ukraine export 28 percent of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer as well as 40 percent of the world’s exports of potash, while Russia by itself exports 48 percent of the world’s ammonium nitrate and 11 percent of the world’s urea.
Cuts in fertilizer use by agriculturalists will lead to lower crop yields in the future unless farmers and farm companies are willing to switch to biofertilizers.
Due to the uncertainty of the food market, many countries have established export restrictions, which further exacerbates the hunger crisis in countries that are not self-sufficient in food production.
Despite all the conversations on self-sufficiency in food production, studies show that action is lacking. By the end of the 21st century, we are being told, 141 countries in the world will not be self-sufficient and food production will not meet the nutritional demands of 9.8 out of the 15.6 billion people projected to be on the planet.
Only 14 percent of the world’s states will be self-sufficient, with Russia, Thailand and Eastern Europe as the leading producers of grain for the world. Such a bleak forecast demands that we radically transform the world food system; a provisional set of demands is listed in “A Plan to Save the Planet,” developed by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Network of Research Institutes.
In the short-term, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has made it clear that the conflict in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia must be ended so that these key producers of food and fertilizer can resume production for the world market.
A recent study conducted by the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security (Rede Penssan) notes that nearly 60 percent of Brazilian families do not have access to adequate food. Of the country’s 212 million people, the number of those who have nothing to eat has leapt from 19 million to 33.1 million since 2020.
“The economic policies chosen by the government and the reckless management of the pandemic lead to the even more scandalous increase in social inequality and hunger in our country,” said Ana Maria Segall, a medical epidemiologist at Rede Penssan. But, only a few years ago, the United Nations championed Brazil’s Fome Zero and Bolsa Família programmes, which cut hunger and poverty rates dramatically.
Under the leadership of former presidents Lula da Silva (2003–2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011–2016), Brazil met the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The governments that followed — of Michel Temer (2016–2018) and Jair Bolsonaro (2019–present) — have reversed these gains and brought Brazil back to the worst days of hunger, when the poet and singer Solano Trindade sang, “tem gente com fome” (“there are hungry people”):
there are hungry people
there are hungry people
there are hungry people
if there are hungry people
give them something to eat
if there are hungry people
give them something to eat
if there are hungry people
give them something to eat
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
Michael Hudson explains in his ‘Super Imperialism’ how the World Bank and IMF, in accordance with US policy, directed the world’s agriculture towards an export/import model where countries would develop and export marketable commodities such as coffee, palm oil, soy beans, etc and then import foodstuffs from the United States.
Thus, the international community became food dependent on the States. No money from international institutions was ever invested in any kind of domestic production for the domestic market, whether agricultural or industrial.
A pdf of this important book is available: hxxps://michael-hudson.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/superimperialism.pdf
I would like my guru Vijay Prashad to sincerely accept my apologies for this pessimistic comment. The die is cast. Beware the Ides of March. The game has already started. There must be a winner. NATO has sanctions, media, and sophisticated weapons to test and give to Ukraine, the perfect President to obey the rules of the game and consolidate the European politicians who each represent not more than 25% of the electorate of their respective country. An example is France where the youth have been coldly indifferent and the opposition is large and the populations just detest escalation in this conflict. A few clowns are taking decisions at G7 to go on and on on the dark path of nuclear confrontation. These guys have anti-missile bunkers to protect themselves for 1 or 2 years. They just want to cheer and toast, champagne in their hands, narrating the glorious days of slavery and colonies. congratulating themselves on the heydays of the British Raj or US imperialism. Very unfortunately Russia is no Libya no Iraq no Kabul no India before partition no African or South American colony. Moscow is a nuclear power. So are China and non-aligned countries like India which have huge populations to feed. The era is one of technology or Kali Yuga. To conclude dear SIR, I remain pessimistic to the square. God bless 2022. Sincere apologies again and again.
NOW SERVING, universally, the “meat & potatoes,” “A PLAN TO SAVE THE PLANET.”
A ‘living” document. (Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research; &, The Network of Research Institutes). It’s “GOLDEN.” Thank you, very much.
NO doubt about it, “A PLAN TO SAVE THE PLANET,” is THE Words To LIVE By. It’s a Universal Plan!!! Imo, it’s what “WE the PEOPLE“ need to heed Chris Hedges’ advice, “wrench power from those WHO control US.”
and; CONTROL the Fund$. Control the financial system. Control access to resources. Control the weapon manufacturing. Control the “narrative,” i.e.,
“THE UNMISTAKABLE smell of urine wafted through the warm night air. The deteriorating condition of downtown Los Angeles — where rows of tents housing the homeless lined the street—didn’t go unnoticed by the foreign dignitaries. Nor did the 7-Eleven where store clerks keep the door locked during operating hours because they’ve been robbed so often.”
“The best and worst of the Americas,” Prime Minister John Briceño, Belize. “Too many have too much, and too many have too little,”
Americas Summit “FIVE (5) formal documents will be released during the summit, “reflecting an ambitious hemispheric consensus on everything from support for civil society to promoting digital connectivity,” (official said). !!! “Also during the summit, BIDEN will Announce MORE than $300 MILLION in regional assistance to combat food insecurity, along with health initiatives aimed at preparing for future pandemics and a partnership with the Caribbean community to address climate issues.”
Americas Summit’s take-away, “a fiasco, a flop, a disappointment: These are just some of the ways that political analysts and Latin American and Caribbean leaders are describing the Summit of the Americas, which is being hosted by US President Joe Biden in Los Angeles.”
“HELLO, DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND.”…..The “root cause” of “the ABSENCE of the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala & Honduras, along with Mexico and several other nations, was ignored by POTUS, Joe “The Political Corpse” Biden, “WHO decided to SKIP the traditional Closing Press Conference Friday @ Americas Summit” (JUNE 9, 2022)
6/29/22 US President Biden Backs African Development Bank’s Plan to Feed Africa
“The United States has announced support for the African Development Bank’s initiative to significantly increase food production in Africa to avert the looming food crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.
At a summit of G7 leaders on Tuesday, U.S. President Joseph Biden and fellow G7 leaders announced a contribution of $4.5 BILLION to address global food security, with the United States meeting 50% of that commitment. The Biden administration announced that it will invest $760 MILLION of its contribution to combat the effects of high food, fuel, and war-driven fertilizer prices in those countries that need this support most.
WHO OWNS the African Development Bank? The largest ADF shareholder is the United Kingdom, with approximately 14% of the total working shares followed by United States with approximately 6.5 percent of the total voting shares, followed by Japan with approximately 5.4 percent.” hxxps://allafrica.com/stories/202206300551.html
And so it’s true, for the Eagle to feed & live well, is dependent upon the Russian Bear.
“Only 14 percent of the world’s states will be self-sufficient, with Russia, Thailand and Eastern Europe as the leading producers of grain for the world. Such a bleak forecast demands that we radically transform the world food system; a provisional set of demands is listed in “A Plan to Save the Planet.” Vijay Prashad
It is disingenuous to keep suggesting that it is ‘the war in Ukraine’ as the direct and only cause of the current supply chain problems, shortages and price rises. The war itself hasn’t caused any of these problems, not even the supposed and non-existent blockade of wheat from Ukraine (mines in the Black Sea placed by Ukraine itself prevent shipping getting through) – it is the sanctions imposed by the collective west, coupled with several years of pandemic problems, and monetary policy that have all accumulated and led to the current set of problems. The sanctions have made the problem far worse, and by lifting them it would offer some relief.
But it seems nobody wants to discuss the elephant in the room. Sanctions aren’t hurting Russia, they are hurting the countries that imposed them. Yet, these countries keep doubling down, and making the economic problems worse. Is it crass stupidity, crazy ideology, or deliberate?
The Russians are not unfamiliar with the problem of hunger, including in the 90’s after the collapse of The Soviet Union. President Putin’s baby brother was placed in an orphanage by his mother where there was more food available for children. Unfortunately he died of diphtheria in the orphanage. Putin’s mother would have died of starvation, if it hadn’t been for his father, who returning from a hospital where he had been recovering from a war wound, found his wife about to be picked by an ambulance driver whose duty it was to collect those who had recently died, for burial. “She’s still breathing,” his father told the driver. He was able to eventually nurse her back to life.
Below are some recent articles I found in Russian newspaper Tass, about the issue of grain:
Russia ready to export tens of millions of tonnes of grain if West lifts bans — MFA
Russia ready to support grain export via ports under its control — Putin
Putin proposes options for grain exports from Ukraine
Press review: Russia, Turkey set to unlock Ukraine grain and new EU sanctions in the works
And I am positive that the five major food conglomerates, seeing their chances at much improved gains, are contributing to this situation. In other words…our pain is their gain. :(
Don’t forget the 2018 launch of the trade war with China. Shortages and supply chain lockups started almost immediately. An absolutely asinine move that has never been rectified, in fact Biden just added more trade restrictions.
Afghanistan would not have any problems in this regard, if the U.S. removed all the sanctions they imposed upon them and defrosted their funds they refuse to release.
This “Christian” nation would rather kill than heal. Their Jesus, “Lord of Love,” “Prince of Peace,” must be so proud.
Trillions for slaughter, pittance for food. How sad. How very sad. Ten percent of our slaughter budget could feed the world several times over.
At last. Someone tells the truth and the crux of the matter. Thankyou Mr. Prashad.
The Neocons of the U.S. have successfully achieved their goal of provoking Russia to react to the unbridled expansion of NATO up to its borders. By luring Ukraine of promises of NATO and EURO membership a bold red line was crossed provoking Russia to fatefully decide to attack. The War is already causing unintended consequences and the world food supply is just one. Biden seems powerless to withstand the strong influence of these warmongers. Thus the near term outlook is not good For an increase in the world’s food supply.
“Biden seems powerless to withstand the strong influence of these warmongers.”
Sorry, but Biden is the biggest war monger of them all!
The claims made, regarding the World’s food supply, allegedly stems from Ukraine are FALSE ! Nowhere have I ever read or visualised any documentation, claiming this importance upon Ukraine. Recently we were informed of Russia providing Naval escort to ships intending to load grain and depart for foreign shores. This after clearing the mines that Ukraine had deliberately placed to prevent such traffic. We are also told, the sanctions placed by the West at the behest of the U.S. A. against Russia, has interfered with the shipping companies operations, destroying their ability to seek insurance cover and even pay their bills. No mention is ever made of this SELF INFLICTED idiodicy, effecting the transhipping of food stuffs around the World. We also have none other than the Leader of Ukraine, stating publicly, “no grains will leave Ukraine until the Russians leave Ukraine, and the West provides Ukraine with enough military equipment to defend itself with”. Basicly, holding all the nations ALLEGEDLY starving, according to the MSM, to ransom. Yet no mention is ever made of this publicly. Strange no ?
ALL of the above is simply ignored by the West and the MSM, as it does not fit the profile they wish to persue.
That’s because Biden is one of the warmongers.
Good words. I have yet to hear from anyone who can answer the hypothetical, “If you were Putin (or the leader of any country) faced with ongoing threats by NATO and its expansion, as well as the very real possibility of a genocide in the Donbas as Ukrainian troops massed on the Line of Control and began extensive shelling, what would you do?” Everyone wants to either deny the hypothetical or cling to their anti-war sentiments. It is clear to me that Putin had no choice but to enter the ‘trap’ set by the Washington neocons.
Also, I don’t give Joe Biden any slack. He is an old Cold Warrior and had considerable influence in shaping the Maidan Coup and in the post-coup fascist government of the Ukraine.