this “hurricane of famines” and these world hunger riots that the UN fears

The words used by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are perhaps the strongest.

“Ukraine is on fire” and “the country is being decimated before the eyes of the world (…). We must do everything possible to avoid a hurricane of famine and a collapse of the world food system,” he said in New York. York, Monday, March 14 at the end of the day.

But since the start of the conflict, many political and institutional leaders have underlined fears that the war launched by Russia in Ukraine will have a profound impact on world food security.

“The war in Ukraine means hunger in Africa”, IMF director Kristalina Georgieva told CBS News on Sunday.

“Europe and Africa will be very deeply destabilized in terms of food, so we need to prepare there as well,” Emmanuel Macron said on Friday, March 11, after a G7 meeting in Versailles.

If the upheavals related to the war were to continue in 2022/2023, “the global number of undernourished people could increase by 8 to 13 million”, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calculated this on Sunday. They would be added to the roughly 800 million people who are already starving in 2020.

Read: War in Ukraine: 13 million more people at risk of malnutrition

Rising prices

“Bread baskets of the world”, Russia and Ukraine together represent a third of world wheat trade, and are also major exporters of other grains such as maize, oilseeds and other essential inputs for intensive agriculture such as fertilizers. However, the conflict not only disrupts the transportation of these goods, but also jeopardizes future production. At the international level, the context is therefore particularly favorable for a double crisis in access to these foodstuffs: a physical crisis, due to the scarcity of trade, but also a financial one, as scarcity is a source of inflation.

Their prices are already starting to rise, influenced by a speculative reaction in the stock markets, which anticipate shortages and could affect those of other products: meat in particular, as some Ukrainian products and Russians are destined for animal feed, but also other foodstuffs, due to the inflation of agricultural inputs.

“The FAO’s World Food Price Index is at its all-time high,” noted Antonio Guterres.

With the associated risk of political and social unrest with global repercussions:

“Grain prices are already higher than those of the onset of the Arab Spring and the food riots of 2007-2008,” the UN Secretary-General said.

More fragile countries more affected

The regions most affected are Asia-Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, the Near East and North Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO. And the countries hardest hit will obviously be the most vulnerable, historically net grain importers for climatic reasons, and often heavily indebted.

In total “45 African and Least Developed Countries import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia – 18 of these countries import at least 50%. This includes countries like Burkina Faso, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia “Sudan and Yemen,” the UN chief said.

But the effects will also be felt in the European Union, which is a net exporter of grains and meat thanks to its stocks. Because if the EU is not exposed to the risk of shortages, inflation will weigh on food prices, exacerbating the precarious situation of households already in difficulty.

“The war in Ukraine is going to have a very big impact,” Michel-Edouard Leclerc said on Cnews on Monday.

Read: After energy, inflation hits consumer goods

Calling to produce more

Faced with this threat, calls for more production are growing in France, especially from the National Federation of Peasant Unions (Fnsea), but also by the government. On the one hand, it’s about ensuring Europe’s “nurturing mission”, on the other it’s about winning a geostrategic war over wheat with Russia, the French agriculture ministry reiterated on Monday.

“You have an influence strategy that has been carried out by Russia for over twenty years to gain more control over these countries – Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco – over wheat,” Julien Denormandie told France Inter. “It is imperative that Europe resumes a process of repositioning on these countries. That means increasing our production (…) and re-establishing these relations with these countries on a fundamental issue, namely food,” said the minister.

Read: “With the military weapon, Russia holds the food weapon” Henri Biès Peré, FNSEA

An approach which, however, would involve a relaxation of European environmental standards that restrict agricultural production, and which the European Union has adopted in its strategy From farm to plate, wants to strengthen by 2030, environmental organizations are concerned. Julien Denormandie also said he was in favor of cultivating “for a certain period of time” of land left fallow today in the name of soil conservation and biodiversity, to produce more vegetable proteins (soy, peas, fava beans, etc.). A speech he defends in Brussels.

According to environmental advocates, there is therefore a medium to long-term risk of continuing to pollute the environment, emitting greenhouse gases and endangering biodiversity without correcting, but rather exacerbating the main causes of world hunger: the industrialization of agriculture. and the globalization of markets. They also fear that the resilience of the French agricultural system will be weakened rather than strengthened, as the quest for productivity is coupled with reliance on imports.

Read: For or against: should French agriculture produce more with the war in Ukraine? Henri Biès-Péré (FNSEA) v Claudine Foucherot (I4CE)

stay calm

The hope for the moment is also that the various countries will keep their cool.

“If everyone thinks of themselves in this situation, it will further aggravate the crisis and lead to a further price spike,” German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Ozdemir noted on March 11 after the G7 meeting.

In addition, the Member States (United States, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada) have promised that, despite the temptation of certain exporting countries to keep their production for themselves, they will avoid all restrictive measures on exports. They called on the international community to do the same.

Not everyone will follow them. Argentina already announced on Sunday evening it would halt new exports of soybean meal and oil, of which it is the world’s largest exporter, to protect its domestic food prices and make them easier to impose due to increases in export taxes. And on Tuesday, where prices are also rising, Russia restricted grain exports to four former Soviet republics (Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan) and banned sugar exports to third countries.

War in Ukraine: “In France it is mainly the breeders”