Guerra, the interruption of food supply chains: if the main engine that provides food to the world breaks down

ROME- While in these days of conflict we are debating moral dilemmas and very dark clouds for our economy, we risk losing sight of the effects already visible for much of the world, even very close to our own. In a few days, the price of wheat and maize increased by 38% and 17% respectively, the highest level since the great crisis of 2008. The countries directly involved in the conflict, Ukraine and Russia, represent to them only 12% of calories. of the world food trade, producing a total of 30% of the world’s wheat, Ukraine alone 15% of the maize and 70% of the sunflower seeds.

This main engine that powers the world. Like Joseph Glauber, of the Institute of Food policy research (IFPRI), Ukraine and Russia are the main engines to feed the world. The war produced a phenomenon of “food inflation” which, combined with the economic and social effects of two years of pandemic and the climate crisis, affected global food reserves and availability. Also according to Glauber, in the short term, we will see significant human costs in a trend that, already in the last four years, has seen the number of people suffering from malnutrition increase, after a long positive cycle. UN food security agencies already estimate that 276 million people worldwide are in the midst of an acute food crisis, including 44 million on the brink of starvation.

The disruption of global food supply chains. So there is an imminent risk of a real disruption, a disruption of global food supply chains. A phenomenon that will mainly affect areas already affected by a humanitarian crisis. From the Middle East to North Africa, countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. All this produces a fusion of the link between weapons and hunger which, for the World Food Programme, is one of the main causes of food crises. Thus, today, the tragic effects of a war unfolding in Europe merge with the consequences of a humanitarian crisis in various parts of the planet.

It is time to make particular choices. To avoid this domino effect in the extraordinary times we live in, the time has come to make extraordinary choices. As chief economist of the world food program (WFP) Arif Husain, even with the loss of food contributions from Ukraine and Russia, there would still be enough food to feed the world. The real problem is the rising price of food, so the immediate solution is monetary. If donor governments commit in the short term, they could bridge the gap between what people can pay and the higher price. Only then will people not go hungry.

The decisive variable of the time factor. Rapid and preventive action is therefore urgent: because the time factor is an important variable in the situation which will make it possible to limit the damage. The necessary figure – still estimates the WFP – is anything but colossal. To respond to the emergency of the 140 million people most at risk, it is a commitment of approximately 18 billion dollars, half of which has already been allocated. Considering, however, that this action must be accompanied by a coordinated and global commitment of institutions and internationals. Market stabilization will then be possible if anti-speculative, coordinated and concerted rules are put in place against the financial markets which determine the price of foodstuffs and certain essential raw materials. In this regard, the involvement of theworld trade organizationactivating the emergency clauses provided for in its statute.

The perspective of the “Green Deal”. The paralysis of one of the world’s main breadbaskets, which supplies Europe with 40% of its wheat imports, must push our continent towards fundamental and no longer postponeable choices – such as Green pact European Commission, that is to say all the political initiatives of the European Commission to achieve climate neutrality in Europe by 2050 – or the reform of its agricultural development model to convert its agriculture in the direction of sustainability through the agroecological approach, or strategy”From farm to table“. The shock of this war shows us that the transition to resilient patterns of production, consumption and lifestyles is very urgent for the planet, as well as a realistic premise for peace.

* Francesco Petrelli, Oxfam Italy, expert on development finance issues

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