Countries across the globe are struggling to secure enough grain to feed their populations. The United Nations has warned that famine is on the horizon for many countries, especially those suffering from the effects of climate change and political instability.
Both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are having catastrophic effects on global food systems, with the disruption of global supply chains and the increased scarcity of rainfall in already at-risk regions.
The war in Ukraine has also exacerbated the global food crisis because of strained grain shipments from Russia and Ukraine, both significant grain producers; they account for 30% and 75% of worldwide Wheat and Sunflower oil, respectively.
Since the war started, food prices have soared, disproportionally affecting fragile regions. Yemen, a country suffering from a seven-year-long civil war, saw its bread prices rise by 35%, while Lebanon, a country with a collapsing economy, is seeing long queues at bakeries as insufficient grain is being secured to operate wheat mills.
Another contributing factor to the global food crisis is the shortage of fertilizer. Many of the world’s farmers rely on fertilizer to increase their yields and meet the demand. A worldwide fertilizer shortage can trigger a famine, especially in regions where food is already increasingly scarce.
The shortage is mainly attributed to the war in Ukraine, which prompted Russia and Belarus, two of the world’s major exporters of nitrogen fertilizers and potassium, to severely reduce their exports due to western sanctions and their policy of suffocating the west’s ability to meet food demand.
These factors have pushed Russia and Ukraine to begin negotiations on grain exports from Ukrainian ports. Delegations from both countries are meeting in Istanbul, along with representatives from the Turkish Defense Ministry and the UN, to develop a workable framework for cooperation on grain exports from Ukraine. The Turkish Defense Ministry and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, both signaled that the deal might be finalized as early as next week.
The release of built-up Ukrainian grain onto the global market might ease the shortage and allow for a short-term solution until peace is secured in Eastern Europe. However, as the UN and, more recently, the European Greens have pointed out, this recent crisis has demonstrated the weakness and fragility of global food systems, prompting a push for a more robust and sustainable solution.
In a statement released last week, the European Greens pushed for sustainable agriculture to face the current global crisis and to prepare the world for future climate-related shocks. As Thomas Waitz, Green MEP and Co-Chair of the European Greens pointed out :
“We must not backtrack progress made on the Green Deal. Our response to the war in Ukraine and the global food crisis are agro-ecological farming practices. They help us fight the climate and biodiversity crises while securing short and long-term quality food supply. We must focus on more sustainable agriculture everywhere and tackling the climate crisis that is endangering farmland across the world.”
Sustainable agriculture centers around the idea that we have to meet current food demand without sacrificing our ability to do so for future generations. A sustainable agro-economic system also promotes social and economic equity for everyone involved in food systems, from small farmers to distributors and food processors to retailers and consumers. This system allows for fairness away from large agri-business.
In the short-term, the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament wants “to invest in small farmers to get us out of the food crisis” while calling “for less feed for animals and more food for people, no grains for biofuels, stopping food waste, and taxing big corporations profiting from the crisis”.
As the climate crisis persists and the war in Ukraine threatens global peace, food is increasingly being used as a geopolitical weapon. According to the Greens, a shift towards “sustainable and resilient agriculture” is now more critical than ever.
This comes as the greens suffered a significant defeat in the European Parliament last week. MPs voted to label gas and nuclear investments as Green, paving the way for increased government subsidies for polluting energy production, further undermining the European commitment to a Green New Deal.