- A global food crisis is unfolding, fueled by the invasion of Ukraine and climate events.
- Food shortages have led to civil unrest in the past, with fatal consequences.
- Experts warn that even if you are well fed, rising food costs in the country will hit you.
- View all the stories in this package here.
The price of lemon in India is skyrocketing. Jollof rice has become so expensive in Nigeria that people are giving up food. In Mexico, avocado prices have skyrocketed, making them a luxury few can afford. Orange groves in Florida are producing the fewest fruits in years. And in Japan, salmon shortages are stifling the sushi trade.
Zoom out and it’s clear: Food crisis unfolding around the world, with prices shooting up everywhere. And when this happens, it hurts everyone. People can cut back on movies or driving when ticket or gas prices go up, but everyone needs to eat.
The crisis – a long time in the making, but brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – is already having a profound impact. In Peru, protests against soaring food and fuel costs turned deadly in April. Sri Lanka’s government fell and its president was ousted in July, as people took to the streets to demonstrate against the lack of food, fuel and medicine.
Unless immediate action is taken, experts have warned that the crisis could have dire global consequences. In some countries, changes in the availability of food can replace centuries-old recipes and customs. Civil unrest can spread, instability and even war can erupt in some of the world’s poorest regions. The breakdown of food systems can lead to large waves of migration.
‘The food crisis is a price crisis’
Global food prices have risen after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. In the US, prices rose 10% year-on-year in May, the biggest increase since 1981, and rose to a record 8.9% in the eurozone. Globally, things are even worse: the United Nations World Food Price Index rose 23% year-on-year until June. Simply put, more and more people are struggling to afford food.
“A food crisis is a price crisis,” Chris Barrett, an economist and food-policy expert at Cornell University, told Insider. He said its implications are widespread and touch the lives of every individual, even if they do not realize it immediately.
“If you worry about domestic politics, if you worry about environmental matters, if you worry about immigration, if you worry about diplomacy in the military, you’re going to have a food crisis. because it’s hidden in the background, pushing those things,” Barrett said.
The warnings from global organizations are getting louder and more desperate. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 50 million people worldwide are on the verge of famine and risk, with the director of the WFP calling it a “catastrophic catastrophe of hunger”.
‘It’s really just a bunch of crises coming together’
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed the global food system to a breaking point. Before the war, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for 30% of trade globally wheat20% of corn, and 70% of the sunflower supply, according to WFP.
War hasn’t just ruined farms. Putin’s troops have blocked Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, preventing vital agricultural products from leaving the country. Meanwhile, the conflict and the resulting Western sanctions on Russia have increased energy costs, driving oil prices up more than 40% this year, which in turn drives up fertilizer costs.
“This issue can easily be extended to the next year, because if you are a Ukrainian producer and your domestic price is half that on a global basis, your incentive or your ability to plant the next crop is reduced. Bad margins Because you’re still paying higher prices for inputs,” Wayne Gordon, a senior commodity strategist at UBS, told Insider.
Although the Ukraine war sparked the crisis, other factors have long bubbled up. Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a growing number of conflicts around the world have put pressure on the global food system in recent years.
The warning signs have been in place long before the Russian invasion – and may be chalked up to the climate crisis at large. For example, in 2011, the Black Sea region faced a severe drought, which increased the price of food, especially wheat. Many analysts have said that this contributed to the unrest that led to the Arab Spring. Samuel Tilray, a sovereign credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings, told Insider that there are “clear parallels” to the 2011 drought today.
Greenhouse-gas emissions have led to unpredictable weather patterns, and a United Nations report from last year found that by the end of the century, as much as 30% Existing agricultural land may be unsuitable for growing crops.
This is something the world is seeing now. Wheat production is limited in major producing states such as Kansas due to severe drought, and Cooking oil prices soar Globally, thanks to drought in South America, which limited soybean production.
The pandemic also didn’t help matters much. Cornell’s Barrett said governments around the world were “trying to revive economies reeling under the burden of the pandemic,” but supply-chain disruptions were rampant, and oil and ocean-freight prices were rising. Was being As a result, he said, supply was not keeping pace with demand, and prices continued to rise.
“Things were already tense, and now we are facing even more stress,” said Annabel Symington, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program on the global food crisis. “It’s really just a bunch of crises coming together.”
crisis affects you
Food is a major element of the culture of any community. When that element becomes scarce – or is removed entirely – civil unrest can occur. In 2008, the international price of wheat, along with milk and meat, doubled, forcing major producers to ban exports to ensure the domestic population continued to be supplied.
In Morocco, protests over food shortages killed 10 people in 2008, sparking a wave of strikes and protests. In Bangladesh that same year, 10,000 workers rioted by vandalizing cars and vandalizing factories in anger over the rise in food prices. Experts say there’s no reason why this time will be any different.
“High-food-price periods have been and are reasonably associated with higher incidences of violence, political unrest and social unrest,” Barrett said. “They are also associated with high rates of forced migration. When people can’t feed their families where they live, they leave in search of food. And some of those migrations are quite treacherous.”
But there are measures – short and long term – that governments can employ to keep people fed. Symington of the World Food Program said governments should do everything possible to help prevent the growing risk of famine in the world’s most vulnerable regions. Barrett said that automatic safety-net provisions should always be in place to ensure financial resources when someone becomes food insecure.
In the longer term, Symington said international organizations and political leaders should also encourage a shift toward more local food production, allowing people to become less dependent on global supply chains. Barrett suggested that the WTO should stabilize exports to prevent “crazy price fluctuations”.
But no matter what actions governments take, life is about to get more expensive for all of us, and a lot more difficult for billions. “Even if you are well fed and all your loved ones and neighbors are well fed, you are still affected by it,” Barrett said.