UN warns of global food crisis

The war in Ukraine could lead to global food shortages in the coming months and years, the UN Secretary-General has warned.

“There is enough food in the world today if we all act together. But if we don’t tackle this problem today, we will face global food shortages in the coming months,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a speech at the meeting May 18 in New York, USA.

Mr Guterres said the war in Ukraine has exacerbated food insecurity in poor countries due to rising prices. “The conflict could bring tens of millions of people to the brink of massive food shortages,” he said, adding that many countries would face years of starvation if Ukraine’s food exports were not restored to pre-war levels.

Secretary-General Guterres said that an effective solution to the food crisis is to reintegrate Ukraine into the global food supply chain and restore supplies of fertilizers from Russia and Belarus to the world market. He said he was in “active contact” with Russia and Ukraine, as well as the US and the European Union (EU), to bring food exports back to normal levels.

The speech was given by the head of the United Nations on the same day that the World Bank (WB) launched an additional aid package worth 12 billion USD to 37 billion USD over the next 15 months.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses a news conference in Beirut, capital of Lebanon, December 21, 2021. Photo: Reuters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a press conference in Beirut, capital of Lebanon, December 21, 2021. Image: Reuters.

The conflict has crippled Ukraine’s seaport system, which once exported large quantities of sunflower oil as well as grains such as corn and wheat. This situation reduces supply and causes prices for substitutes to skyrocket. According to the United Nations, food prices around the world are up about 30% year-on-year.

Russia and Ukraine supply about 30% of world wheat demand. Ukraine was once considered the “breadbasket of the world” with 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce exported through seaports each month.

However, Ukrainian exports plummeted as hostilities erupted, sending food prices soaring. Food prices continued to rise after India announced on May 14 that it would stop exporting wheat.

The UN estimates that around 20 million tons of grain from the previous harvest are trapped in Ukraine. If this amount of food is released, it could ease the pressure on the global food market.

Duc Trung (Corresponding BBC)