‘Russian-Ukraine conflict poses new challenge to global food security’

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, which came at a time when economies worldwide are still grappling with the negative effects of COVID-19, poses a new challenge to global food security, an official with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.

“Many countries rely on supplies from Ukraine and Russia for their food import needs, including numerous least developed countries and low-income food-deficit countries,” Boubaker Ben-Belhassen, director of FAO’s trade and markets division, told Xinhua in a recent written interview. 

Russia and Ukraine are major agricultural producers and exporters, he said, adding that Russia stood as the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the second leading supplier of potassium fertilizers and the third largest exporter of phosphorous fertilizers in 2021. 

“Disruptions to Ukrainian and Russian grain and oilseed production and exports and restrictions on Russia’s exports can have significant impacts on global food security,” noted Ben-Belhassen.

The conflict is resulting in reduced exportable supplies, as well as higher energy, fertilizer and overall input prices, which in turn translate into higher costs of production and eventually higher food prices, according to the official. 

“FAO’s simulations suggest that international food and feed prices could rise by 8-22 percent above the baseline levels and the number of undernourished people could increase by 8-13 million people in 2022/23 (season),” he said, adding the actual impact will depend on the duration and magnitude of the conflict. 

Meanwhile, the pandemic could have lasting effects on global food security, Ben-Belhassen noted.

Preliminary estimations published in the 2020 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report suggested that the pandemic may add 83-132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020 alone, he said. 

The economic rebound in 2021 was highly uneven among regions, he said, adding that many developing nations, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, are not foreseen to return to pre-pandemic economic growth levels before 2024. 

“This will continue to widen pre-existing inequalities and undermine poverty reduction and sustainable development progress,” he said.

Citing an FAO’s analysis, Ben-Belhassen noted that about 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030, 30 million more people than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred.  -Xinhua

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