The war in Ukraine is threatening the world’s wheat supply

Non-stop shelling Ukraine is masking a shadow crisis created by war: lasting damage to the global food system seems likely to increase hunger, disrupt markets, change land use and water, and possibly even more carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Russia and Ukraine are the pedestals of Europe; The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that their exports represent 12 percent of all food calories transactions in the world. These two countries account for almost 30% of global wheat exports, nearly 20% of maize exports and more than 80% of the world supply of sunflower oil. Those exports have stalled for different reasons – in Russia-invaded Ukraine and in Russia by global sanctions – but the real impact is the same. It was as if Iowa and Illinois, America’s grain production hubs, had been left off the map.

Early signs of that damage appeared this week. First month world food crop assessment published by the United States Department of Agriculture since the start of the war forecast that Russia and Ukraine’s wheat exports would decline at least 7 million tons This year. At the same time, the cabinet of Ukraine voted ban all wheat exportsalong with shipments of oats, millet, buckwheat and cattle — keeping their produce at home serving the needs of the people.

“This crisis is beyond common sense,” said Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist and professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. to shuffle the supply. “We’ve blown up that system, and the cost will be excruciating economic pain.”

The crop crisis in Ukraine has several factors. Goods that have been harvested – such as last fall’s corn – cannot be shipped out of the country; Ports and shipping lanes are closed, and international trading companies have stop working for safety. (Plus, while those crops lay in the barrel, wreaking havoc on the country electricity networks put in place temperature controls and ventilation to keep them from spoiling.) This year’s wheat, will be ready in july, cannot be harvested without fuel for the combiners and without the labor to operate them. Farmers are struggling over whether to plant for next season — whether they can get seeds and fertilizer, what supplies looks uncertain. (Russia is the world’s largest fertilizer exporter; it consignment suspended last week.)

Global food prices soar the highest of all time even before the war started, thanks to the pressure the Covid pandemic has placed on supply chains, and wheat prices are currently at 14 years peak. Analysts fear that the countries that buy the most wheat from Ukraine – mainly in Africa and the Middle East – will have the hardest time bargaining as prices rise.

Palestinian workers work in a wheat factory, in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on March 1, 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could mean less bread on the table in Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere in Arabia.Photo: Majdi Fathi / Getty Images

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