War in Ukraine Triggers Food Crisis Across the Globe | FRIDAY DIGITAL

War in Ukraine Triggers Food Crisis Across the Globe

Ukraine, the world's leading breadbasket, has become a battleground. The worst "world food crisis" in history will create starvation and new conflicts.

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Ukraine is one of the world’s leading grain-producing countries. But warfare has stalled production and exports.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is about to trigger a food crisis.

On March 29, David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), warned that the war in Ukraine is about to wreak havoc on regional agriculture and global food and grain supplies the likes of which have not been seen since World War II.

“Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of food, especially wheat, of which Russia is the world’s largest exporter and Ukraine is the fifth largest, together accounting for about 30% of the world’s exports. The world also relies on both countries for about 20% of corn and over 70% of sunflower oil.” The war between Ukraine and Russia, the world’s food pantry, has caused world food prices to skyrocket. Professor Kazuto Suzuki, of the University of Tokyo’s School of Public Policy, tells us.

 “Ukraine has almost no exports. The major export hubs are Mariupol and Odessa, but Mariupol has been overrun by Russian forces and is not functioning as a port. As for Odessa, it is unusable because the Russian Navy is waiting in the Black Sea for any ship that tries to leave the port. A large amount of wheat harvested in 2021 is left in Ukraine.”


The impact on future harvests is even more significant.

“The entire country of Ukraine is not a battleground, so there are areas where we can produce, but the problem is labor. Workers are being taken by the war or fleeing abroad. Also, the price of diesel fuel and pesticides has gone up tremendously, putting a huge burden on producers. Wheat seeding, which is done around the time of snow melting, has hardly been completed, so this year’s wheat harvest will be quite low”, Suzuki adds.

Soaring fertilizer prices are also a serious problem. The three major components of fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Russian products account for 20% of the world’s potassium production. The impact is felt around the world.

Fertilizer prices have already risen two to three times, depending on the type. If prices rise even higher, every agricultural region in the world, especially in Europe, will be hit. If producers hold back on buying fertilizers, the growing conditions of not only grains but also vegetables may deteriorate, and they may even abandon planting because they cannot afford to buy fertilizers.


Grain prices were already rising before the invasion of Ukraine due to China’s massive consumption. In terms of wheat prices, as of mid-February, just before the war, they were already 49% higher than the previous five-year average (2017-2021). The start of the war has spurred a 30% increase. Professor Manabu Takahashi of Ritsumeikan University, who specializes in disaster risk management based on the history of environment, land development, and disasters, said, 

 “The world’s population is now about 8 billion, and it is growing by 100 million a year. On the other hand, the world can only produce enough food for 10 billion people. The world is already running out of food. Currently, about 800 million people are suffering from hunger. Someone’s extravagance leads to someone else’s starvation. In this situation, China’s grain production is not keeping up with domestic consumption since 2019. If wheat cannot be produced in Ukraine, where grain imports have been increasing at a tremendous rate since 1975, market flows will be very thin. The current price spike is just the beginning.”


Developing countries with low food self-sufficiency are the most affected: Yemen, a country on the Arabian Peninsula that has been in a seven-year civil war, is in a very serious situation because it relies on imports from Ukraine and Russia for 40% of its wheat. According to the UN World Food Program, the number of hungry people is expected to reach 19 million, or about two-thirds of the population, later this year. The number of people who will die of starvation is currently estimated at 5 million. 

The main buyers of Ukrainian wheat are geographically close to Middle Eastern and African countries. Many of the countries in this region are poor and have large young populations. When food shortages occur, public dissatisfaction rises and there is a major backlash against the regime. I believe that social uprisings will occur in the Middle East and African countries in the future.

In fact, in Peru, a state of emergency was declared by the government on April 5 as demonstrations protesting sharp increases in fuel and food prices spread and clashes with police forces resulted in casualties.

The Arab Spring of large-scale anti-government protests that took place in the Middle East and North Africa from 2010 to 2012 was triggered by the sharp increases in grain and oil prices from 2008 to 2009. The current surge in grain prices may follow the same pattern as the Arab Spring. In addition, many poor countries are dictatorial states, where rulers are likely to use force to suppress riots. The more force is used, the more social discontent grows, and the more unstable the country becomes, which is a negative spiral,” said Suzuki.


The war in Ukraine is creating new conflicts around the world.

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