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A blow to Ukraine will be a blow to world hunger

Much of the focus on the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine has focused on energy, yet Ukrainian MP Oleksii Goncharenko writes that we should also be concerned with the war's impact on global food security.

For close to a month, Russia's war against Ukraine has been on the front pages of the world's leading media. The brutality and inhumanity of the aggressor, who is purposefully attacking residential neighbourhoods, kindergartens, hospitals and maternity hospitals, has now become clear to the world. The Ukrainian army is repelling all new enemy attacks every day. And while the courage and skill of our soldiers can hold back Moscow's tactical success, their strategic threats must not be forgotten, the first of which is already emerging. I am talking about global food security.

It is no exaggeration to say that Ukraine's agricultural output is key to global food security. Ukraine has extraordinary agricultural potential. In 2021, Ukraine was among the world's ten largest suppliers of corn (18 per cent of world market), barley (19 per cent), wheat (11 per cent), honey, soybeans, and became the world's largest supplier of sunflower oil (30 per cent). Despite the impoverishment of more than 55 per cent of European soil, Ukraine still has significant potential for productive land, which, with the necessary technological intervention, can yield truly impressive crop results. We can talk about a more open and reliable agricultural market in Ukraine, which will operate shortly in accordance with international best practices.

Ukraine is currently one of the key suppliers of agricultural products – primarily grain – to the multimillion-dollar markets of Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt. In each of these countries, Ukrainian goods occupy more than a quarter of the market share. If we look at the European Union, we will see the significant influence of Ukrainian farmers – the bulk of honey, sunflower oil, cereals are still produced in Ukraine and meet the needs of many European countries. Exquisite French pastries, well-fried German sausages, Scandinavian honey buns – all this depends on the quality and responsible work of Ukrainian farms.

However, the Russian invasion has threatened to disrupt the sowing campaign in Ukraine. And if Ukraine will only be able to provide its own population with limited resources – last week it banned the export of rye, oats, sugar and imposed additional restrictions on the export of wheat, corn, chickens, eggs and oil – then there are big questions about food supplies around the world. Currently, Russian invaders are trying to occupy the most fertile regions of our country, thus blocking Ukrainian farmers from working – and creating additional global threats.

Ukraine is a key supplier of grain and other agricultural products to the densely populated countries of Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. These are regions where their populations and economies are rapidly growing, and therefore a reliable supply of agricultural products is key to supporting them.

The fight against global hunger is already extremely tense. The 2021 Global Report on Food Crises found that in 2020, 208 million people had food problems, 155 million people worldwide suffered from systemic malnutrition, and about 28 million were facing a food emergency (a crisis that is followed by mass starvation). At the same time, 133 thousand people in Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Yemen are in constant famine. Moreover. there is a clear trend of population growth in developing economies – it is projected that over the next two decades we will have over 10 billion people alive on our planet.

The economies of most countries are trying to move away from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the WHO is already examining the possibility of declaring an end to the global pandemic, its impact on the economy is still preventing many markets from stabilising. Rising inflation, huge government spending, low private market activity – a shortage of food could turn into a catastrophe.

The aggression of the Russian Federation also has another dimension. Because of his bloody desire to win an empire, Putin is preventing his own economy from growing – an economy which is still largely agrarian. Until now, almost 25 per cent of all cereals exported to the African continent were from Russia. However, this year the reorientation of the economy to the military and Russia's growing external isolation will not allow them to maintain this level of exports.

The Russians should not be relied on, so the only way to compensate for all possible losses is to save the Ukrainian agricultural sector.

So, the world has two options. You either actively support Ukraine and save the world from a multibillion-dollar food crisis… or change your menu for the coming year.

Oleksiy Goncharenko

Oleksiy Goncharenko is the MP for Odesa, Ukraine and the founder of the Ukrainian network of educational and cultural centres — the Goncharenko Centre.

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