Endemic poverty, climate change, the VID-19 pandemic, internal and international conflicts: political, health, economic and environmental crises have been combining to undermine our food systems. Indeed, for several years now, people around the world have had to deal with disruptions to their agricultural harvests, inflation in the price of agricultural inputs and foodstuffs, difficulties in accessing employment and a consequent decrease in their purchasing power. The recent conflict in Ukraine has worsened this situation by interrupting key supply chains (30% of the world’s wheat exports as well as a large proportion of agricultural fertilisers come from Russia and Ukraine). A time bomb confirmed by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, for whom the current situation “could lead to a hurricane of famines in many countries”.
A global crisis
One of the reasons for the feared hurricane is its global nature. Many countries around the world are now affected. In Sudan – a country where 55% of wheat imports came from Russia and 5% from Ukraine in 2020 – the Global Food Security Cluster reports that food prices have almost tripled in one year and are expected to be 400-500% higher than the five-year average. Lebanon, meanwhile, has seen the price of bread rise by 600% in 2021 while the local currency has lost 92% of its value (WFP, 2022). The data are equally telling in Colombia, which is heavily dependent on imported agricultural inputs and is experiencing a 128% increase in the price of these products. Even people in the wealthiest countries are affected: according to Eurostat, in Europe the price of bread has risen by 17% in Germany and 8% in France.
rising fuel and gas prices
Another factor accentuating the global food crisis in all these regions is the explosive oil prices. This has a double impact. “At the local level, this trend sometimes drastically reduces the possibilities of using agricultural machinery, the production and delivery of fertilisers and pesticides, but also the transport and processing of food products,” explains Julie Mayans, technical advisor for food security and livelihoods at SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL. Harvests are therefore smaller and people working in agriculture are experiencing a dramatic drop in income.
More generally, the price of a barrel of oil is also undermining the capacity for humanitarian intervention, with “on the one hand, the number of people in need of assistance is increasing and, on the other, food aid is becoming more and more expensive to implement,” continues our expert.
Nor should we forget gas, of which Russia controls a large part of global exports. More than half of Europe’s production capacity for nitrogen fertiliser used in agriculture is at a standstill because of Russian gas supply cuts.
The scarcity of available foodstuffs and their soaring prices are obstacles to sufficient and quality food. The “strategy” used by the populations concerned is often the same: they reduce their daily food consumption, change their diet and/or sell their belongings in order to buy food. The result is catastrophic: very rapid weight loss, undernourishment, delayed development for children and death in the most serious cases. While this situation is unfortunately well known, it is the scale of it that is unprecedented. In 2021, the number of food insecure people was estimated at 828 million, a record figure and an increase of 150 million since 2019*. And projections for 2022 are even more chilling.
To counter this global paralysis, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL advocates a two-pronged response.
In the short term, there is an urgent need for governments around the world to work towards a certain fluidity of supply chains and for more funding to be allocated to emergency food aid.
In the longer term, changes in food and farming practices towards a more sustainable system – sometimes drastic – should be supported. Diets must reintegrate more local foodstuffs, which are sometimes neglected but often easier to grow because they are better adapted to agroecological contexts. Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire are exemplary in this respect and are beginning to make bread from cassava flour, replacing wheat-based flour. The fight against waste and a more balanced diet by reducing excess meat and dairy products, particularly among the richest populations, must also be considered.
Finally, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL supports the return to local land-friendly agricultural. “Agroecological practices, the use of organic fertilisers, the introduction of less energy-intensive irrigation systems, grain banks to preserve seed diversity and cope with shocks: solutions that open the door to food sovereignty and do not contribute to environmental degradation do exist,” concludes Julie Mayans.
*according to the SOFI 2022 report on the state of food insecurity in the world.