The Many Threads of the Food Insecurity Web

Geopolitics, a global lack of cohesion in responding to climate change, and the Russian war in Ukraine- how a combination of man-made factors impacts the lives of the most vulnerable of society.

Do you like tomatoes on your burgers?

If you frequent Burger King and McDonald’s in India, you may not have had a choice as both fast food chains curbed the use of tomatoes in their meals to cut costs when prices spiked.

This is but one eyebrow-raising tale arising out of food security concerns across the world, caused by climatic conditions, conflicts, and the geopolitics of food supply chains.

India, one of the largest agriculture commodity exporters, is experiencing unusual food inflation and has banned the export of certain food items. Pakistan has banned the export of sugar. Argentina, a main exporter of soybean, is bracing itself through loosened FX controls to import soybean soon to combat scarcity.

Droughts in India and Tunisia have reduced the harvest of rice, wheat, soybean, and flour. Wildfires across Hawaii impacted the harvest of bananas, taro and sweet onions.

As a result of food scarcity across many markets, prices have shot up.

The price of rice products has risen by 10-15%. The Tunisian drought has caused reduction in subsidies for flour in the midst of shortages of sugar, coffee, milk, butter, and oil. Neighbouring countries of Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt have also experienced similar climate conditions, food shortages, and food inflation.

Protests are already underway in Syria, signalling the possibility of unrest across the region. The GCC is also concerned that food scarcity might be a bigger threat than food inflation as 85% of the food is imported.

The release of the filtered water from Fukushima’s nuclear plant into the Pacific has also sparked safety concerns with China placing a blanket ban on Japanese seafood imports.

Russia backing out of the Black Sea grain deal slashed Ukrainian exports by a third and increased the price of wheat. The war also affected natural gas prices, which is linked to fertiliser production, a third of which was wiped out, leading to price hikes.

Implications

Food inflation, disruption of food supply chains, and resultant scarcity are examples of how the everyday lives of society are at risk from geopolitical tensions between states and inaction in the face of climate change. World Bank data reveals that undernourishment is higher today than it was pre-pandemic. Food inflation exceeds overall inflation across 166 countries.

China banning seafood imports from Japan, reducing the prices domestically, and affecting the livelihoods of Japanese fishing communities are some actions that provide it with leverage against Japan in the broader geopolitical spectrum.

The failure to renew the Black Sea grain deal by Russia immediately after Ukraine’s attack on Kerch Bridge also provided Russia with the upper hand in controlling Ukrainian trade as well as global supply and prices.

Knee-jerk protectionism causes artificial scarcity and massive fluctuations in price. Farmers lack incentives to continue production and the vicious cycle of price and harvest fluctuation continues.


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