By 2021, the world's population facing the issue of hunger will increase to 193 million due to conflict, climate change and economic crisis. Conflict and security issues are the leading causes of extreme famine in 24 countries, affecting 139 million people. The economic ‘shock’ was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which affected food supplies to 30.2 million people in 21 countries. Extreme weather has caused serious food shortages for 23.5 million people in Africa.

In addition, nearly 40 million more people have fallen into the 'severe food security' crisis in 53 countries with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Yemen and Afghanistan worst affected, especially Afghanistan which saw millions of its people starve after the country plunged into financial crisis after The Taliban took over. Thus, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it needs US $ 1.5 billion (RM6.5 billion) to stabilize and increase food production in high -risk areas where the growing season begins. Thus, according to the Head of the International Association of Manufacturers in Eurasian Operations, Eren Gunhan Ulusoy, all international institutions agree the world will face an unprecedented crisis of hunger. Among the relevant agencies are the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). By 2021, a large portion of the 140 million population is struggling with the issue of severe hunger around the world.

World market turmoil is exacerbated as some countries consider reducing exports to ensure adequate domestic supply. Indonesia, for example, suspended palm oil exports to face a shortage of domestic supply, pushing vegetable oil prices to new highs. India, meanwhile, banned wheat exports as heat waves due to scorching hot weather affected crop yields and local prices hit record highs. This export ban could result in global wheat prices soaring to new levels, thus affecting poor consumers in Asia and Africa.

This is because, global buyers expect the world’s second -largest wheat -producing country to supply wheat, after exports from the Black Sea region plummeted following the crisis of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Russia's blockade of all ports in the Black Sea, thus blocking the export of cereals and other food products from Ukraine will trigger a food crisis that will affect Europe, Asia and Africa. This is because of its prevalence, Ukraine exports 75 percent of the grain it produces and generates about 20 percent of the country’s annual export revenue. 

Ukraine was previously known as the ‘food basket of the world’. However, the war affected the production and production of Ukrainian food resources threatened by factors such as logistical disruptions, loss of access to agricultural land, labor shortages, crop damage and destruction of assets and infrastructure of the food system. Western sanctions on Russia prompted Moscow to respond by freezing fertilizer exports.

Russia and Ukraine, with vast areas of grain cultivation are among the world’s leading food producers by accounting for the bulk of world exports in several major commodities such as wheat, vegetable oil and corn. Both countries provide 19 percent of the world’s barley supply, 14 percent of wheat and 4 percent of corn, thus making up more than a third of global grain exports. Both also account for 52 percent of the world’s sunflower oil export market.

To make matters worse, some countries plagued by the food crisis import almost all wheat from Russia and Ukraine, including Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar. Thus, according to UN Secretary -General António Guterres, the issue of global food security cannot be resolved without Ukraine, Russia and Belarus returning to the world market. This problem will not be solved without bringing back Ukraine as producers of agricultural and food products while Russia and Belarus as major fertilizer producers. The fact is, crop yields will be reduced by up to 50 percent in the absence of fertilizer.

According to the FAO, the most significant impact of the war was that world food commodity prices, especially staple grains and vegetable oils, made a significant jump in the market in March to reach record highs due to the effects of the war in the Black Sea region. In February alone, the food price index jumped 12.6 percent, the highest jump since 1990. Russia and Ukraine account for about 29 percent of the global wheat trade, a serious disruption in production and exports could cause food prices already at the highest level in 10 years will be even higher. The most notable impact is that wheat prices have risen by up to 40 percent since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. This in turn will erode food security guarantees for millions of people, especially those already under stress due to high levels of food inflation in their respective countries.

Worse, the war crisis threatens the World Food Program (WFP) which is responsible for helping about 125 million individuals worldwide. WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned that the war would not only risk destroying the program, but would change the role of Ukraine, which had previously acted as the world's food supplier. As much as 50 percent of the grain purchased by WFP, the UN’s food aid branch, is produced by Ukraine. Recent developments in Ukraine will affect WFP's food aid program, not to mention rising prices could cost the agency between US $ 60 million (RM250 million) and US $ 75 million (RM313 million) a month in operating costs. According to WFP the level of hunger could be catastrophic if the Ukrainian crisis is about to raise food prices. International food prices are expected to rise by up to 20 percent as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.

Experts also warn that the Russian war in Ukraine is at risk of causing a famine that is at risk of turning into starvation and mass death. According to the UN, severe food security issues occur when a person is unable to obtain adequate amounts of food and the condition threatens life or survival immediately. All those developments forced WFP to reduce rations for millions of people like Yemen. In fact, WFP may have reached such a point of desperation that it had to take food from hungry children to give to the starving. WFP and the children's agency UNICEF in a joint statement said the humanitarian situation is expected to worsen between June and next December. While the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes, it can also trigger a surge in global malnutrition.

Russia's massive invasion of Ukraine has a widespread secondary impact. As a result, if the conflict in Ukraine is not ended the world will receive its effects, particularly exacerbating the global food crisis related to aspects of food security. As it turns out, bullets and bombs in Ukraine could bring the global famine crisis to a level beyond what we have seen before.

By: Prof. Prof. Dr. Haliza Abdul Rahman, Head of Laboratory, Youth Laboratory in Leadership, Politics & Citizenship, Social Science Studies Institute (IPSAS), UPM

Date of Input: 19/07/2022 | Updated: 19/07/2022 | nooryati


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