Among the horrifying humanitarian consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine troubling short-, medium- and long-term disruptions to the global food supply. Ukraine and Russia contribute nearly one-third of all wheat exports.
Already, wheat prices have soared to record highs. The fate of the approximately 6 million hectares of wheat planted in Ukraine remains uncertain. This picture will probably only worsen with rising input costs, as supply-chain disruptions, not least of fertilizer and fuel.
There could not have been a worse time for heavy rains to have dented China’s winter wheat crop. The last time wheat prices increased sharply, in 2008, it precipitated food riots from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh.
The war highlights the folly of having 2.5 billion people depend so heavily on three main regions of wheat production and export in a changing climate.
The world needs to spread its bets. How? By expanding wheat production in high-productivity areas (North America and Europe) and in regions with suitable conditions (Sudan and Nigeria), and by increasing productivity in places where it is low (such as Ethiopia and Turkey).
Second, real-time monitoring and feedback systems need to be used and scaled to safeguard production and protect the most vulnerable crops. Advances in satellite and remote-sensing imagery make it possible to chart progress in real time.
Third, developments in agricultural science and policy need to target support to women. A decade ago, the FAO estimated that if women had access to resources (land, technology, credit, education and so on) as men did, they could increase yields by 20–30%!
The war in Ukraine, the pandemic and the impacts of climate change are all impacting food production, distribution and global hunger. There needs to be a coordinated response to address this emergency and then to build resiliency, so loss of one crop doesn’t cause massive hunger!