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16th May 2022

Calls to fix food market as world faces 'largest crisis in history'

  • The price of bread has doubled in countries such as Sudan, where some 40 percent of the population lives in poverty (Photo: Isaac Kasamani)
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The war in Ukraine is fueling the "perfect storm" for a new and serious food crisis that could have been avoided, a new report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES) warned on Friday (6 May).

Food prices were already high before Russia invaded Ukraine.

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  • World food price index, 1990–2015 (Photo: FAO)

But the conflict has sparked what is considered the third food crisis in 15 years due to the disruption of Ukrainian and Russian grain exports — both major global exporters of barley, wheat, maize and sunflower seeds, as well as fertilisers.

The UN previously warned that the war in Ukraine could lead to between eight and 13 million more people being undernourished next year, prompting calls for structural reforms of global food systems.

Nevertheless, IPES experts argue that it is "too late" for some of the world's poorest populations which already face "deepening poverty and acute hunger".

EU commissioner for international partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, said earlier this week that the international community must do everything to prevent "the largest food crisis in history" and the potential social, economic, and political upheaval that could follow.

The new report warns that food import dependencies, production patterns and speculative grain markets make global food systems vulnerable to price shocks.

While some of these weaknesses were previously identified following the 2007-2008 food price crisis, experts said they have been left unaddressed by the international community.

Jennifer Clapp, the vice-chair of the UN high-level panel of experts on food security, said that governments have failed to curb "excessive speculation" in food stocks and commodity markets.

"Evidence suggests financial speculators are jumping into commodity investments and gambling on rising food prices, and this is pushing the world's poorest people deeper into hunger," she said.

In early March, G7 agriculture ministers called out "artificially inflated prices" and "speculative behaviour" — pledging to monitor the markets to ensure "full transparency".

'A recipe for disaster'

After the Ukraine invasion, the price of wheat on futures markets jumped 54 percent in a few days and food prices increased significantly across the globe.

For example, the price of bread doubled in countries such as Sudan — where some 40 percent of the population is living in poverty.

The report found that food-importing countries are highly dependent on a handful of countries and companies that control the global grain trade — a situation that makes poor countries highly vulnerable to supply shocks in exporting countries or export bans.

"It seems no lessons have been learned since the last food price crisis," said UN special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter.

He argues that continuing to rely on a few commodities and countries for global food security combined with "predatory financiers" is "a recipe for disaster".

Instead of short-term solutions, experts say it is necessary to provide financial support and debt relief to vulnerable countries, build grain reserves in regions like West Africa and curb excessive commodity speculation.

They add that it is key to diversify food production and restructure trade flows — preventing countries from introducing export bans that can further destabilise markets.

"It's alarming to see rising prices and the threat of hunger and food riots returning to many countries in Africa," said Mamadou Goïta from Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD).

EU urged to grow more wheat to avert food crisis

European agriculture ministers have called for higher domestic farm output, amid food security worries, and a looming food crisis in Africa. Many African countries, eg Benin, Egypt, Sudan, Madagascar, and Burundi, are almost entirely, or exclusively, dependent on Ukrainian grain.

With war raging, a push to roll back green farming

Campaigners say pesticides lobbyists are trying to rollback green farming rules but Europe "can't just drop everything we've already tried to develop for sustainable development of farming in the future," says EU agriculture commissioner.

EU countries rush to expand gas import capacity

EU plans to quit Russian gas and replace it, in part, by importing overseas liquified natural gas has lead to a flurry of new gas projects — which threaten to lock in unnecessary gas use for decades.

Russia's war stifles EU pandemic recovery

The impact of Russia's war in Ukraine is being felt throughout the EU and the eurozone. The European Commission has downgraded its economic forecast to 2.7-percent growth this year.

Lagarde signals summer interest rate hike

European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde signalled an interest rate increase possibly as early as July, but some experts warn for a repeat of the 2011-2012 debt crisis.

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