Speaking to The Guardian in an interview, Maximo Torero, the chief economist at the FAO, said food prices were already high before Russia invaded Ukraine, owing to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The additional strain of war could tip the global food system into disaster.
“We were already having problems with food prices. What countries are doing now is exacerbating that, and the war is putting us in situation where we could easily fall into a food crisis.” He said.
Food prices have been rising since the second half of 2020, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization and reached an all-time high in February, after wheat prices rose by nearly a third and rapeseed and sunflower oil by more than 60% during 2021. The price of urea, a key nitrogen fertilizer, has more than tripled in the past year.
At least 50 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30% or more of their wheat supply, and many developing countries in West Africa (Including Ghana, Nigeria, and other countries) Northern Africa, Asia and the near east are among the most reliant. Ukraine alone supplied 12% of global wheat before the war, and was the biggest producer of sunflower oil.
About two-thirds of the country’s wheat exports had already been delivered before the invasion, but the rest is now blocked, and farmers may be unable to continue with spring planting, or take in grain harvests in the summer.
But the crisis goes deeper to affect many of the countries in Africa. Because these countries were already struggling financially with some facing debt crises, amid the pandemic.
Ukraine and Russia are also major producers of fertilizer, prices for which had already leapt under high energy prices and the war is still sending energy prices with further impacts on agricultural production costs around the world especially the reliant countries.
“Right now, the short-term problem is availability. We need to find ways to fill the gap [in production caused by the war],” he said. “We think the gap can be closed somewhat, but not 100%. Countries should also try to diversify their suppliers.”
Even if the conflict were to be resolved quickly, the impacts would be felt for some time, he said. The soaring price of fertilizer, for instance, will have a delayed impact, reducing yields for harvests still to come, as farmers start to use less of it now.
“These are the problems we will see next year,” Mr. Torero told The Guardian