Risk to global food insecurity

Wednesday, 2022-06-29 11:33:04
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A panel session of world leaders at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos. Photo: WEFORUM
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NDO - The world is facing an unprecedented global hunger crisis. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned 'There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022'.

At a conference on food security taking place in Berlin, Germany, the head of the world's largest multilateral organisation called for action to stabilise food markets and reduce volatility in commodity prices.

Many economists say that the current global food crisis is more serious than the 2008 crisis, which is caused by issues such as drought, population growth, growth in wheat imports in developing countries and the increased use of food as fuel.

This time it will be difficult to find an alternative supply when the world is interrupted by supply chains from Russia and Ukraine. The two countries accounted for a combined 28% of global wheat exports, 15% of corn, and 75% of sunflower oil during the 2020-2021 season

Drought in the US is expected to reduce winter wheat production, and hail, strong winds and heavy rain this month in France will reduce its wheat production. The dry climate in Argentina, the world's sixth-largest wheat exporter, also lowered its output forecast for the 2022-2023 season.

Meanwhile, the decline in wheat production due to an unusual heat wave affecting crops in India also had a significant impact on the supply to the world market.

It only took 24 hours last month for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in India - the world's second-largest producer of wheat - to shelve its plans to "feed the world".

Alarmed by rising inflation, which had contributed to toppling the previous Congress party government in 2014, Modi's office told the Ministry of Commerce on May 13 to put the "brakes on" wheat exports immediately, according to one government official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

India is one of at least 19 countries that have introduced food export restrictions since the war in Ukraine sent prices soaring, hampering international trade flows for several agricultural products and sparking violent protests in some developing nations.

From Delhi to Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires to Belgrade, governments imposed restrictions, at a time when the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with factors such as extreme weather and supply chain bottlenecks, had already driven hunger across the globe to unprecedented levels.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in April the number of people facing acute food insecurity - when their inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in danger - had already more than doubled since 2019 to 276 million in the 81 countries in which it operates before the Ukraine conflict began.

The war - which disrupted exports from Russia and Ukraine, two agricultural powerhouses - was forecast to increase that number by at least 33 million, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Under World Trade Organization rules, members can impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs or other products if they are temporary and required to relieve "critical shortages". But export restrictions risk worsening the rise in global food prices: producing a domino effect as a deepening crisis prompts other countries to take similar steps, said Michele Ruta, the lead economist in the Macroeconomics, Trade & Investment Global Practice of the World Bank Group.

Many economists say the global food crisis is already more severe than the last one that peaked in 2008, which was driven by factors including droughts, global population growth, higher consumption of meat in major developing economies, and the increased use of crops to produce biofuels.

Translated by NDO