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The Food Crisis: A Matter of Humanitarian Need Triggered by Geopolitics, Pandemic and the Climate Change 

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Can you imagine being deprived of food, the most humanitarian need of us all? Severe natural causes of climate change, unstable market conditions after the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leads to the largest increase in food prices of the decade and possibly a food “availability” crisis of the future. Although this increase is visible in every continent, the people already vulnerable to hunger and poverty are impacted the most leading to an escalation of the problem of inequality. 

The post-pandemic world has been suffering from the devastating events of the last few years: conflict, consequences of covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. A critical issue escalating as a result of these three challenges is the food crisis. Emerging climate crisis, and the conflict in Ukraine, after unpredictable economic activity due to the covid-19 pandemic is leading to unprecedented food price increases all over the world. If necessary measures are not taken immediately, this issue may turn into a food “availability” crisis.  

To understand how the food crisis responds to each issue and worsens with their interplay, these challenges shall be analyzed separately. 

Climate Crisis 

Fairly, the most determining factor of the food crisis in the long term is the climate change. In fact, the effects on food crisis of the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine can be reduced by measures such as diplomatic means, agreements among countries, policies to increase economic productivity and demand. However, climate change differs greatly in terms of how it impacts the crisis in the big picture.  

Humankind is now observing the severe consequences of global warming every day although having continued activities that fueled climate change for hundreds of years. The climate crisis, not only with its relation to food security, is the most critical problem we are facing. Without immediate action, we are on the edge of a global disaster. Many humanitarian challenges such as water shortage, low agricultural activity, food crisis, extreme natural disasters such as floods, storms, and drought are linked to each other by climate change at their core.  

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Global warming being the main reason and all the issues raised by it that are mentioned above are variables which increase crop failures, food prices, hunger, and death rates caused by famine. 

This brings us to how unequal the outcomes of food insecurity are. According to the World Bank, decreasing crop yields will particularly cause 43 million more people in Africa to fall behind the poverty line in 2030.  

Covid-19 Pandemic 

World hunger has already been rising for a long time, especially in areas torn by conflict, politics, and low socio-economic development. The covid-19 pandemic has been very disruptive for all areas of life and prompted vulnerability and food insecurity. Currently, the world economy is still recovering from the pandemic as economic well-being in most basic terms is maintained by human activity which had to be constrained due to Covid. Reduction of income, and depressed food supply chains have doubled the number of highly food-insecure people to 276 million due to the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine.  

A food supply chain, in its most basic definition, is how food comes to our tables from farms. It includes production, processing, and retail, which all determine the prices of food. During the pandemic, all three stages experienced a cost increase. Consequently, consumption prices rose. Supply chain constraints raised one of the biggest concerns during the pandemic period as it brought obstacles regarding exports/imports as well as the supply chains between rural and urban areas.  

Russia-Ukraine Conflict 

The pandemic and climate change were already alarming the largest increase in food prices of the decade when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 limited the export and import activity in an extremely critical area for agricultural goods in the world.  

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Both Ukraine and Russia geopolitically are two very crucial countries for trade. Ukraine is the largest exporter of sunflower oil accounting for 75% of the total global exports as well as for wheat, energy supplements, and fertilizer with Russia. In fact, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that one-third of the most fertile soil on earth belongs to Ukraine. Due to its major position as a grain supplier in the world, the conflict is worsening food insecurity. Although market conditions are recovering from the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine raises a threat for all continents because fundamental food stocks are at risk of being trapped in the conflict zone.  

Latest analyses indicate that farm yields in Ukraine could decline up to 50% this year. The further extension of Black Sea Grain Deal is being discussed but Russia is threatening the initiative, established between the United Nations, Russia, Ukraine and Türkiye to ensure grain in Ukraine is not trapped in Ukraine ports due to the war and exported through the international routes in the Black Sea to the people in need. The initiative played a key role to mitigate the risk of famine in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and Afghanistan.  

The crisis hits the most vulnerable 

The food crisis makes the inequality among societies of different regions and their vulnerability to poverty and hunger more visible than ever. Surging prices hit economically fragile people, global warming leaves some farmers, especially in those areas harshly impacted by extreme weather conditions, in a very risky situation. For example, most climate-vulnerable countries are in Africa and the region is suffering from drought after five consecutive low rain records. Food insecurity leaves millions in Africa even more fragile to price increases and expands the level of crop dependency.  

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Thus, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed its outcomes worldwide, but most particularly in the Middle East and Africa. These two continents are relying more on grain exports from Ukraine as they are already torn by raising temperatures, lack of social protection systems provided by governments and many conflicts such as the wars in Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine and Sudan.  

Inaction towards the three key challenges will worsen the already alarming level of inequality of poverty. It is fair to say that a future food availability crisis in the whole world will not be unexpected.  

Author profile

Hi, I am Sezen Özkalp from Turkey and I study International Politics and Government at Bocconi University. As a social sciences enthusiast, I am passionate about journalism which is a tool of "sustained societal education" as I'd like to define it. I am an environmentalist and love singing, playing the piano, art and traveling.

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