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How does the war in Ukraine impact food supply?

The war in Ukraine is exacerbating an already alarming global food crisis, experts warn.

Vulnerable and developing countries are hardest hit.

“Ukraine feeds 400 million people,” Julian Cribb, science writer and the author of Food or War, told The Drum.

“A lot of people – especially in the Middle East and Africa – rely on Ukraine for their daily food.”

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The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of “severely food insecure people” doubled from 135 million before the pandemic, to 276 million at the start of 2022 – and the war in Ukraine is expected to drive this up to 323 million by the end of the year.

David Beasley, the head of WFP, has called Russia’s failure to open the ports in Ukraine to grain and agricultural exports “a declaration of war on global food security.”

How does conflict affect food supply?

Russia and Ukraine combined supply 12 per cent of all traded calories in the world – including more than one-quarter of globally traded wheat and barley, and three-quarters of the sunflower oil.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are threatened.

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According to simulations of the expected shortfall in food exports from Ukraine and Russia – and assuming food exports aren’t increased elsewhere as a result – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says: “The number of undernourished people will increase by close to 19 million in 2023.”

European Council president Charles Michel told the UN Security Council in June that the Kremlin was using food supply as a “stealth missile” against developing countries.

“I have seen it with my own eyes,” he said.

“A few weeks ago in Odesa, millions of tonnes of grain and wheat stuck in containers and ships because of Russian warships in the Black Sea and because of Russia’s attack on transport infrastructure.

“And it is Russian tanks, Russian bombs and mines that are preventing Ukraine from planting and harvesting.”

There are other forces at play — like climate change

Julian Cribb
Julian Cribb, author of Food or War, says we’re losing 1 per cent of the world’s farmland every year.(Supplied: Allen and Unwin)

Supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of climate change – like the heat waves in India – were already impacting the world’s food supply before the war began.

“Ukraine was really just the domino that set off the chain reaction,” Mr Cribb says. “It blew food prices through the roof.

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