Experts warn that the world is facing an unprecedented wave of famine and famine caused by further “explosive” increases in food prices after new figures showed how much the war in Ukraine will reduce world wheat supplies.

Forecasts are supplied exclusively for The Independent suggest that RussiaRussia’s tough campaign, including its blockade of vital Ukrainian ports, is likely to lead to even more disruptions in food supplies than previously feared.

It is expected that this year wheat production will be halved – this is a much worse result than previous forecasts, said MHP, one of Ukraine’s largest exporters.

What is even more worrying is Ukraine will export less than a quarter of the amount of wheat it exported last year, according to the company.

If the forecasts turn out to be accurate, the world market will be deprived of about 43 million tons of wheat – enough to cover the UK’s total consumption for almost six years.

Estimates made in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture of Ukraine, mean greater disruption of global food supply chains, which could endanger the lives of millions of people in regions such as East Africa, which is heavily dependent on imports of Russian and Ukrainian grain.

It will also raise prices for UK consumers who are already facing cost of living crisis that threatens to push 1.3 million people to absolute poverty.

Forecasts appear when the UN warned that refusing to open Ukrainian ports and allow supplies of wheat and other vital goods would mean “declaring war on global food security.”

Matthew Hollingworth, coordinator of the UN World Food Program in Ukraine, said that now the world is facing an “unprecedented crisis, a crisis that defines the era.”

“It’s huge. People who do not have food security will simply not be able to afford their basic diet, which for many people is bread, ”he said.

Grain exports from Ukraine feed about 400 million people, including many in regions that cannot produce their own food. East Africa imports 90 percent of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia. Oxfam estimates that one person dies of hunger every 48 seconds in a drought-stricken region.

Russia and Ukraine also contribute about two-thirds of the grain imported by Libya and Egypt, and half of the grain imported by Lebanon and Tunisia.

The Horn of Africa is facing hunger as wheat prices rise

(AFP via Getty)

Oxfam’s senior adviser on agriculture, Eric Munoz, said the famine was rising before Russia invaded Ukraine, but the war “catastrophically worsened the situation”.

“People at greatest risk are balancing against hunger,” he said, pointing to Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, among others.

“People have very few options and they have exhausted their fighting strategies, such as selling their assets. We are also seeing very high levels of hunger in West Africa and even in middle-income countries such as Lebanon. ”

About 25 million tons of grain are stored in Ukraine, which is a vital place for this year’s harvest, which begins in just six weeks.

There is a growing fear that farmers who cannot sell their crops due to the Russian blockade will plant less this year, exacerbating the global deficit.

Ukraine stores 25 million tons of grain, which is a vital place for this year’s harvest


Even if Russia agrees to lift the blockade, it will take months before supplies from Ukraine can resume, Mr Hollingworth said.

He said clearing mines and wreckage near ports such as Odessa would be “extremely difficult and resource-intensive”. Businesses may also be reluctant or unable to move goods due to constant security fears and difficulties in obtaining insurance.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned this week that “there is no effective solution to the food crisis without the reintegration of Ukraine’s food production.”

However, industry leaders in Ukraine are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the prospect of reopening ports this year, and say land routes through Poland and Romania could take only a quarter of the usual amount of cargo.

MHP, one of Ukraine’s largest exporters of wheat, now predicts that production will reach almost half of last year’s level, with winter crops falling by about 20 million tons and summer – by 35 million tons.

The MHP estimates that one-fifth of Ukraine’s grain storage – about 15 million tons – has been destroyed or occupied by the Russian military, further complicating efforts to resume exports from the region, which supplies 29 percent of the world’s grain turnover.

“This is a serious situation,” said John Rich, chairman of the MHP board. “We are coming out of the pandemic, we have war, climate change, and China is blocking its ports, which is causing logistics problems.

“So you have four apocalypse riders raging down the global supply chain.”

If Russia does not end the blockade of the Black Sea, the world could find itself in a “dangerous spiral” of declining food production and increased protectionism, Mr Rich said, pointing to India’s recent decision to block wheat exports during the historic heat.

“For the first time, I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

World wheat prices have risen 54 percent this year and are set for a further “explosive rally” when supplies will have an additional shock, said Paul Hughes, chief agricultural economist at S&P Global Commodity Insights.

He said Russia’s invasion had “hugely disrupted supplies”. “Given the reduction in supplies that followed the Russian invasion and the associated loss of Ukrainian exports, the world cannot afford a significant loss of supplies below current expectations.”

He added that wheat stocks in major exporting countries this year have already been “excessively scarce” and stocks are lower than ever since the last jump in food prices in 2008.

“There is no doubt that the current situation is putting a huge strain on consumers in low-income countries and their governments,” Mr Hughes said.

World leaders fought for a solution to allow food to be exported from Ukraine, and reached a consensus on the need for urgent action. But a source in agriculture who knows the situation in Odessa, Ukraine’s main port, said there was “almost no chance” of reaching an agreement to ease the port’s blockade.

The Kremlin has said it will not consider the deal until Western sanctions against Russian businesses and oligarchs are lifted. This demand is likely to be seen as unacceptable by European and American governments, which have sought to turn a blind eye against Vladimir Putin’s political allies and the Russian economy.

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