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Is the Russia-Ukraine conflict responsible for the global food crisis?

A multimillion-rand wheat pre-breeding platform in Stellenbosch is set to help improve wheat yields in South Africa, as research looks into alternative ways of cultivation. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA

A multimillion-rand wheat pre-breeding platform in Stellenbosch is set to help improve wheat yields in South Africa, as research looks into alternative ways of cultivation. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA

Published Jun 23, 2022

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Cape Town – With all eyes on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the affect it has had on wheat, sunflower oil as well as maize, here’s a look at what the global food situation was like before the war.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

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According to Al Jazeera, Russia and Ukraine exports over 70% of the world’s sunflower oil, a third of the world’s wheat and are major suppliers of maize.

And, while negotiations to ensure safe corridors for the grain exports continue, Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he was ready to facilitate the export of grain from Ukrainian ports in co-ordination with Turkey.

Russia claimed Western sanctions on its banking and shipping industries had added to the decline in exports of food and fertilisers from Russia. However, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the sanctions did not involve food.

“We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the sixth annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC).

“The war in Ukraine is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis – food, energy and finance – with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries, and economies,” he said.

This came at a time when developing countries were already struggling with the challenges of the pandemic, the climate crisis, and inadequate resources, Guterres added.

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WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?

According to the GRFC report released last month, the levels of world hunger were alarmingly high and in 2021 had surpassed all previous records reported with around 193 million people in 53 countries in need of urgent assistance.

“This increase must be interpreted with care, given that it can be attributed to both a worsening acute food insecurity situation and a substantial 22% expansion in the population analysed between 2020 and 2021,” read the report.

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“The unfolding war in Ukraine is likely to exacerbate the already severe 2022 acute food insecurity forecasts included in this report, given that the repercussions of the war on global food, energy and fertilizer prices and supplies have not yet been factored into most country-level projection analyses,” it said.

It added that in 2021, almost 40 million people were already facing emergency conditions, Of these, more than half a million people in countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan and Madagascar had reached catastrophic conditions of “starvation and death”.

Meanwhile, an additional 236 million people in 41 countries were living in stressed conditions and required livelihood support and assistance for disaster risk reduction to prevent them from slipping to worse levels of acute food insecurity.

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WHAT DRIVES FOOD INSECURITY?

The GRFC indicated that multiple conflicts remained the main driver of food insecurity.

The data highlighted 23 conflict-affected countries and territories which affected 99 million people. Also, a combination of factors in 2021 such as economic shocks, the rise in global food prices and supply chain disruptions were all key drivers.

The impact on weak currencies, extreme weather-related disasters such as drought, flooding and cyclones added to the food insecurity crisis.

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