A recent World Food Programme report highlights the severity of global food insecurity, citing 750,000 people at immediate risk of starvation or death. Further, there is an all-time high of 49 million people at risk of succumbing to famine.
In a pre-pandemic world in which we already once had 135 million food-insecure people, that number has doubled in just two years, according to the U.N.
It can be easy, however, to brush off this news because it’s unlikely that you’ll end up going hungry. The brunt of the catastrophe will be felt by those living in the world’s poorest countries in Africa and the Middle East, but the rising prices and food insecurity will have an impact on everyone.
What is causing food shortages and soaring prices?
To begin talking about how to fix this mounting food insecurity problem, we first need to understand its causes, of which there are many.
The conflict in Ukraine
Perhaps the most obvious and largest factor contributing to the food shortage is the conflict in Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukraine are vitally important agricultural countries, combining for upwards of 25 percent of global wheat supply.
These are critical food-producing countries, and they are currently at war with each other.
Part of the looming food shortage problem boils down to farmland being destroyed by war activities and resources diverted to fight in the war.
The bigger and more immediate problem, however, is the blockade of the Black Sea ports. Reports say that Ukraine is sitting on more than twenty million tonnes of grain that it is unable to export because its sea ports are blocked.
Ukraine has littered the Black Sea with sea mines to prevent Russian ships from advancing, but inadvertently blocking routes for export. Russia claims it will allow food shipments to pass through via escort, but that Ukraine first needs to remove the mines so that the ships can navigate the waters safely. Talks are ongoing to make this happen but it’s a political stalemate right now.
Fertilizer price hikes
Russia is (in)conveniently also the world’s largest fertilizer exporter. The Western sanctions imposed on Russia have led to a shortage of fertilizer products, which in turn has raised the prices of the fertilizer that is available.
Farmers worldwide are facing tough choices. Record-high fertilizer prices are making it difficult for farmers to turn a profit. Some are opting to reduce the amount of fertilizer they use, while others choose to reduce their seeding acreage, both scenarios leading to lower yields.
Extreme weather events
The increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events affects the output of crops. The world’s second largest producer of wheat, India, is experiencing one of its hottest years on record. This has lowered their wheat output significantly and led the government to introduce a ban on wheat exports.
Just like in India, countries around the world are putting restrictions on the amount of food products they can export amidst concerns of shortages. Export restrictions are going to have the most significant impact on the countries that are net importers of food, a list that is dominated by low-income countries — the same ones most at risk of long-term food insecurity.
Supply chain disruptions
The blockade of the Black Sea ports is the major focal point right now, but supply chain disruptions are happening worldwide, in large part due to pandemic restrictions. China’s zero-Covid strategy has led to very strict lockdowns, halting work, and causing a ripple effect across the world’s supply chains.
High oil and gas prices
Gas prices are as high as they’ve ever been in the U.S. and worldwide. This has a trickle-down effect on every aspect of global markets. From producing to transporting food, high gas prices influence the purchase price of consumer food products.
What can be done to alleviate food insecurity?
Peace in Ukraine would be a wonderful place to start. As well, removing, or at least reducing, some of the Western sanctions on Russia would allow for Russian food products to flow more easily into global markets. Unless any of us participate in diplomatic talks, however, we may have to begin looking at other workable solutions.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of corn. However, forty percent of corn cultivated in the U.S. goes towards producing ethanol to be blended in fuel. This is a mandate of the U.S. government. Facing a severe food shortage, reducing the amount of corn diverted to gasoline production would increase food stocks.
Food waste is another problem area. On average, the American household throws away about 660 pounds of food per year. Businesses and individuals both have a part to play in fixing this number.
Meat consumption also uses up more land and food than grains or vegetables. Three pounds of cereals go into producing one pound of pork. You may not want to hear it but reducing meat in your diet could mean more food available to go around.
Global cooperation is really at the core of what’s needed to alleviate the food crisis. Countries refraining from imposing export restrictions and working cooperatively to distribute food around the planet will give more people reliable access to food.
Image credit: LilacDragonfly via Pexels
Andrew Kaminsky is a freelance writer with no fixed location. He travels all corners of the globe learning about the different groups that call this planet home, seeing natural wonders, and sharing laughs with the people he finds along the way. An alum of the University of Winnipeg's International Development program, Andrew is particularly interested in international relations and sustainable development. In his spare time you are likely to find Andrew engaging in anything sport-related, or finding common ground with new friends over a craft beer.