Ukraine war reveals fragile food security

Written by Tom Tanner, The SRA

The current war in Ukraine is destroying and devastating a country, displacing millions of people, and ruining lives. The impacts of this crisis do not end there though – it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Putin’s violence is creating a global food security crisis. Between them, Russia and Ukraine are some of the biggest producers in agriculture and food globally, meaning that we will be seeing impacts worldwide on food production, security, and price. 

Ukraine 

Ukraine is known as the ‘breadbasket’ of the world – appropriately so: they export about a quarter of the world’s wheat, and half of its sunflower products (such as seeds and oil). In Ukraine, the spring sowing campaign starts in the first ten days of March, and the seed planting needs to be fully completed by the last week of April. The regions of the Ukraine that are most agriculturally productive are also the areas more consistently under attack, making farming virtually impossible. This means there will be less to grow and distribute both locally and globally.  

Russia 

Russia is also responsible for a significant portion of global exports in wheat, corn, and sunflower oil. The country is also the leading producer of the major ingredients of fertiliser, such as potash and phosphate – which are key to enabling crops to grow. 

Between the two 

Between the two countries, Russia and Ukraine produce 19% of all exported corn globally, a third of wheat and 80% of sunflower oil. Put those stats together and they make for very troubling reading. Much of that grain is also used in animal feed as well as bread production – meaning it’s not just things like bread production that are going to be impacted, but proteins and many other supply chains as well.  

What does this mean globally?  

There have not yet been global disruptions to wheat supplies, but only a week since the invasion, prices have already surged by 55%. If the war is prolonged, it is predicted that countries who rely on affordable wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine could face shortages in July. This could create food insecurity and put people at further risk of food poverty – especially in places like Egypt and Lebanon, where people’s diets are largely formed by government-subsidised bread, with wheat coming from Ukraine.  

Further, given that the products from Ukraine and Russia feed a huge amount of livestock, this also might lead to increased prices for livestock feed, which subsequently might increase the price for meat and dairy products globally.  

Is there room for positivity?  

So, why are we clinging on to the feeling that war might be good for something – or 1% of something at least? 

It’s the other side of human nature we are talking about. While barbarism, cruelty and brutality are to the fore as Russian continues to bombard many Ukrainian towns and cities, there is a force for good rising to the surface. And it’s cooks, bakers and chefs leading the way – both in and around Ukraine as well as in the UK. 

If you haven’t already, do listen to last Sunday’s Food Programme on BBC Sounds. It’s a tough listen in part, but there are also some terrific examples of food professionals going massively above and beyond to ensure people are fed, whether they remain besieged in Ukraine, or in refugee camps in Poland. 

Nate Mook tells how he and his colleagues of World Central Kitchen have been providing people on the Ukraine Poland border with essential hot meals and how the Spanish postal service has lent a cargo plane to deliver food donations. 

Ukrainian TV chef Dasha Malakhova, told the Food Programme presenter Dan Saladino how restaurants and bakers across the country she has just fled, are stretching every sinew to cook for soldiers, hospital staff, volunteers, and pensioners. In the port city of Odessa, market traders gave away all their produce to feed their fellow citizens. 

Meanwhile, back in the UK, those brilliant folk who stepped up to #CookforSyria, have done it again. Now restaurants are hosting special dinners, putting donations on the bill, and at the time of writing had raised £115,000 for UNICEF. It’s easy to get involved: implement these ideas in your own business, host an event (if it’s just at home with friends and family), or even simply add a donation on the Just Giving page. 

Just as there were few silver linings during the pandemic that has dogged us all for two years, there is precious little positive about this war. However, the response of the food world is the one tiny glimmer of light in all this that accounts for the 1%.  

Thanks to everyone here and in and around Ukraine for using food as a force for good when it’s needed most.  

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