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Mario Lubetkin

This is an article by Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

ROME, June 16, 2022 (IPS)– If the war in Ukraine and other conflicts around the world continue, the challenge for 2022 will be to guarantee greater access to existing food supplies and sufficient food production by 2023.

As we move closer to four months into the war, the data continues to point to a trend towards higher food prices, especially in the poorest countries, while there is growing concern about the possible consequences of this increase.

Potential shortages of some goods could cause internal instability in many countries, increasing internal and external migration flows.

Russia and Ukraine together account for 30% of world exports of wheat and corn and 63% of sunflower seeds. Experts estimate that this year there is already a shortage of three million tons of this grain, despite the increase in exports from other countries such as India.

Rising energy and fertilizer prices could lead to several tens of millions more people going hungry, dramatically increasing the 811 million people already suffering from hunger in 2020.

This figure has continued to rise due to the effects of COVID-19, by more than 100 million in 2021, jeopardizing the next global crop.

According to a recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), some 193 million people in 53 countries were already severely food insecure and in need of very urgent assistance in 2021, nearly 40 million more than in 2020.

Famine warnings remain high in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

The most vulnerable countries in Africa and Asia will pay the highest price, although many European countries are 100% dependent on Russian fertilizers, the world’s leading exporter.

This is the case of Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Serbia, while countries such as Slovenia, North Macedonia, Norway and Poland, among others, are also heavily dependent on these fertilizers.

In addition, more than 50 countries in other parts of the world are at least 30% dependent on Russian fertilizers.

Egypt and Turkey are among the countries most likely to be hit hardest by imports of wheat and corn from warring European countries, as well as from several African countries such as Congo, Eritrea, Madagascar, Namibia, Somalia and Tanzania.

As for the rise in food prices, there are countries such as Lebanon, where growth has already exceeded 300%. However, even more developed countries are feeling the impact of the conflict, as in the case of Germany, where prices rose by 12%, and the UK, where they rose by more than 6%.

By the end of March, just over a month after the start of the war, food had already risen by 12.6%, the highest since 1990, according to FAO data.

A reduction in production could lead to an immediate drop in food quality, leading to an increase in the critical situation of obesity, which already exceeds 600 million people, while more than 2 billion are overweight, which can also increase health risks from cardiovascular diseases. to diabetes.

“We need to keep the global trading system open and ensure that agrifood exports are not restricted or taxed,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu.

Qu said there is a need to increase investment in countries affected by current food prices, reduce food waste, and improve and use natural resources such as water and fertilizers more efficiently.

It is also necessary to promote social and technological innovations that will significantly reduce market failures in agriculture, as well as improve social protection and individual assistance to farmers most affected by this crisis.

FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero recalled the proposal of this Rome-based specialized body to create a global instrument called the $9 billion Food Import Financing Facility to cover 100% of food spending for the most affected countries in 2022.

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