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The war in Ukraine is triggering a global food crisis. Here’s how the U.S. can help

The war in Ukraine is triggering a global food crisis. Here’s how the U.S. can help

Even before Russia started a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, 2022 was shaping up to be a year marked by sky-high food prices, food shortages, and widespread starvation in many parts of the globe. Now, Ukraine is in the midst of a huge humanitarian crisis, with the war’s consequences rippling around the world. This year, there will virtually likely be insufficient food to feed the entire planet. According to the United Nations’ World Food Program, the situation is swiftly becoming “catastrophic,” with a significant risk of famine in portions of the Middle East and Africa.

Wheat, corn, barley, rye, sunflower seeds, and other crops were key exporters from Russia and Ukraine. Around 30% of the global wheat trade was provided by the two countries. Because it takes months to cultivate and harvest grains, the loss of some of these crops cannot be made up fast. This issue is more difficult to correct than the oil supply crisis in many ways. While oil prices have dropped, wheat prices are still around record highs, indicating what is likely to happen this spring and summer. Russia is also a major fertilizer producer, raising the cost of practically all crops in the coming months.

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Food costs will rise even more in rich countries like the United States, Australia, and much of the European Union, putting a strain on lower-income households already dealing with inflation. However, products in the bread and cereal aisles will still be available. Because low-income countries do not have enough money to pay high food costs, there will be a true risk of starvation and famine in many parts of the developing globe. Fifty countries, many of which are among the poorest in North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, rely on Russia and Ukraine for more than 30% of their wheat.

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The worst possible reaction to the food crisis would be for wealthy countries to suspend or severely restrict vital crop exports. In difficult circumstances, it’s tempting to hoard all available resources, but this just serves to exacerbate famine in developing countries. During the Great Recession of 2008, dozens of countries drastically restricted the export of critical crops, resulting in food riots from Egypt to Haiti. Wheat, flour, and beans have already been outlawed in Egypt. Meanwhile, China has been secretly snatching up supplies from around the world.

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Increased financial contribution to the World Food Program and similar efforts would be a preferable option for the US and its partners. These organizations are connected to a large number of suppliers and respond swiftly to local demands. During this food crisis, it would also be beneficial if the United States ended or at least temporarily waived the renewable fuel standard, which diverts significant amounts of corn, sorghum, and barley from the United States to create ethanol.

The global food problem will not be solved soon, but wealthy countries may take steps to prevent widespread hunger and the instability that it brings.

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