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Russia Ukraine conflict

What can be done to mitigate the food security crisis? FAO economist weighs in

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The war in Ukraine has given rise to a global food crisis, with surging prices for cooking oils, grains, fuel, and fertilizer.

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Ukraine, often referred to as the world’s breadbasket, was invaded by Russia on February 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation.” Since then, countries across the world have imposed tough sanctions on Russia as the conflict rages on, heavily disrupting the Ukrainian economy and restricting global trade.

Trade has been hit particularly hard since the war because Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Russia is also a key fertilizer exporter and Ukraine a major supplier of corn and sunflower oil.

Monika Tothova, an Economist at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), weighed in on what governments and individuals can do to mitigate the effects of the hunger crisis in a recent interview with Al Arabiya English.

What can be done in the medium-term?

“Above all, keep the global trade system open, and ensure that exports of food and agricultural products are not restricted in any way,” said Tothova.

The FAO economist added that “trade in fertilizers” was a crucial part of ensuring “future harvest,” which would, in turn, help with global recovery from the crisis.

In 2021, conflict – in combination with economic shocks – affected around 139 million people worldwide and since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, this figure is likely to increase, a recent report released by the FAO and the UN’s World Food Program revealed.

According to the report released last week, acute food insecurity is expected to worsen in several countries between June and September this year, indicating that the hunger crisis is affecting many countries and it is happening at such a rapid pace.

A vendor weighs produce in a market as inflation in Argentina hits its highest level in years, causing food prices to spiral, in Buenos Aires, Argentina April 12, 2022. Picture taken April 12, 2022. (Reuters)
A vendor weighs produce in a market as inflation in Argentina hits its highest level in years, causing food prices to spiral, in Buenos Aires, Argentina April 12, 2022. Picture taken April 12, 2022. (Reuters)

Tothova suggested other intermediate-term solutions.

“Maintaining market transparency is crucial in times of uncertainty to help to stabilize markets and prices,” she told Al Arabiya English.

She added that people needed to offer their support to “countries that are facing difficulties related to the sudden increase in their food import bills.”

The FAO recently proposed a global food import financing facility which aims to present a mechanism to respond to rising food import and input costs, she explained.

“On the level of individual countries, help those most affected by high food prices by providing targeted assistance [such as] vouchers, direct payments, safety nets,” she advised.

Long term solutions

With food costs and market uncertainty on the rise, UN organizations have recognized that immediate action needs to be taken to ensure the situation does not worsen, especially since the war in Ukraine is well into its fourth month of conflict.

“There are many countries that are in a precarious situation. Over the last year, we have experienced yet another spike in hunger across the world,” said the FAO economist.

“Even people who are not yet in emergency levels of food insecurity are likely to be affected as their purchasing power will decrease, they will need to turn to less nutritious foods or skip meals, withdraw kids from school – all sorts of negative coping strategies will impact their health and wellbeing, including increasing prevalence of undernourishment, as well as wasting and stunting of children,” Tothova warned.

The WFP predicted that between 179 million and 181 million people will be in crisis or worse when it comes to food security, a staggering increase from the 139 million already affected in 2021, which accounted for an increase of 40 million people since 2020.

A general view shows Ghar El Melh's 'Al-Qataya', where farmers say a unique and traditional agricultural system is at risk of extinction due to climate change, in Ghar El Melh, Tunisia November 2, 2021. Picture taken November 2, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
A general view shows Ghar El Melh's 'Al-Qataya', where farmers say a unique and traditional agricultural system is at risk of extinction due to climate change, in Ghar El Melh, Tunisia November 2, 2021. Picture taken November 2, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

Weather variability is also a very worrying factor for many in the agricultural sector, as the effects of climate change begin to take shape in several countries, impacting the future of food production.

Tothova suggested to “identify in which countries and regions it is possible to sustainably produce more and better, taking into account increasing weather variability” and also urged governments to diversify their set of exporters, in order to not rely on a few producing countries to satisfy all their needs.

Read more:

Food security was ‘deteriorating’ before Ukraine war, but has worsened since: Expert

Ukraine war risks 11 mln-19 mln more hungry people over next year: FAO

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