Are the horrors of the Ukraine war and its impact on prices and energy supply just the tip of the iceberg? Experts warn of a global food crisis of catastrophic proportions.

He actually thought it couldn’t get any worse: Climate change with devastating droughts and supply bottlenecks caused by the pandemic threatened to starve millions of people last year.

David Beasley, head of the UN World Food Program, warned of the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II. But now, he says at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, things have gotten even worse. Because with the Russian war against Ukraine, the granary of the world is failing.

World market prices for wheat, for example, have risen sharply

Experts and politicians are warning of a global food crisis and hunger in many parts of the world. World market prices for wheat, for example, have risen sharply since the beginning of the war. That would be a problem in itself, but Beasley predicts food shortages will also occur. Even before the war, an estimated 44 million people in 38 countries were on the brink of starvation. Now another 40 million could be added by the end of the year.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, everyone is talking about this humanitarian catastrophe. So far there have been no solutions, says Beasley, who came to the Swiss Alpine village to show the world’s rich how serious the situation is. Instead, Ukrainians are lobbying for more support in the fight against the Russian army.

Moscow: “Aren’t we the cause of the problem”

The Kremlin, on the other hand, accuses the West of having caused the crisis itself with its sanctions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia is not preventing Ukraine from exporting grain to Poland, for example by train. “And as far as transport by sea is concerned, we are not the cause of the problem.” The cause is “those who have imposed sanctions against us and the sanctions themselves that work”. Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said he was ready to talk on Wednesday. According to the Interfax agency, he called for the sanctions to be lifted. In addition, Ukraine must demin all ports. But then Russia would be ready to secure a “humanitarian passage”.

Because of its fertile soil, Ukraine is one of the most important wheat exporters in the world. In addition, there are high world market shares for barley, corn and sunflower oil. According to UN figures, a good 30 million tons of maize and almost 25 million tons of wheat were harvested in 2020 alone. According to one study, Ukraine and Russia together produce 12 percent of the world’s traded calories.

Most of them are now in danger of failing. Because a lot of Ukrainian grain is shipped via the Black Sea ports. Wheat went from there to Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, Ethiopia, Yemen and Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh last year. These ports, especially Odessa, are now being blocked by Russian forces. In Davos, President Volodymyr Zelenskyj called for negotiations on a corridor and release for export.

«Russian troops bomb Ukrainian fields»

Around 20 million tons of grain from the previous harvest could not be shipped at the moment, says former Ukrainian finance minister Natalie Jaresko. The Ukrainians have no more room in their silos. The new harvest threatens to rot. Ultimately, however, the crisis will affect the whole world: food shortages will lead to unrest in many countries.

Several European politicians accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of deliberately using hunger as a weapon of war. “Russian troops are bombing Ukrainian fields, preventing sowing, looting food stocks, blocking Ukrainian ports and thus raising food and fertilizer prices,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasized: “Russia is not only waging its brutal war with tanks, rockets and bombs. Russia is waging this war with another terrible and quieter weapon: hunger and deprivation.”

According to Beasley, Ukraine alone could supply 400 million people with its grain. That would be particularly important right now, because other granaries in the world are also failing. In China, the largest wheat producer, heavy rains have delayed sowing. Now there are corona lockdowns. There is a heat wave in India. It rained too little in the American grain belt. In Vietnam, too, climate change is causing problems due to rising sea levels, says Deputy Prime Minister Le Minh Khai.

It is unlikely that other regions of the world will step in – also because agriculture is becoming less and less profitable in view of rising fertilizer and energy prices. In many African countries, farmers can no longer afford the fertilizers that are so important there, which painfully reduces their yields.

The Climate and Environment Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Mariam Mohammed Saeed Al Mheiri, called for more international cooperation in Davos. Countries like Indonesia had reacted to the increased prices with export bans for cooking oil – but have since withdrawn them.

“Let’s try less meat too,” Al Mheiri suggested. Because large parts of the cultivated grain is used as animal feed. Also under discussion: Using the land on which grain for biofuel is currently being grown differently.