Oil prices tumbled from recent highs on Wednesday, giving a boost to U.S. stock indexes (if not U.S. drivers), but Russia's invasion of Ukraine isn't just roiling global oil and gas markets — it's threatening global food security. Ukraine and Russia jointly produce about 30 percent of the world's wheat exports, more than half the world's sunflower oil, and 35 percent of its barley, for example. And those are all "now effectively cut off from global markets," Politico's Meredith Lee reports.
"Governments across wide swaths of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East are scrambling for a new source of food for millions of people," Lee writes. "And in a one-two punch, China and other countries are panic-buying to top off their immense grain reserves and are likely to hold back on rice exports, another major source of global nutrition, as food insecurity grows."
The U.N. Food Programme (WFP) has recently "drawn more than half our wheat" from Ukrainian farmers, executive director David Beasley wrote in The Washington Post. Now, the WFP is feeding millions of Ukrainian war refugees, and "if Ukrainian fields lie fallow this year, aid agencies such as ours will be forced to source new markets to compensate for the loss of some of the world's best wheat. Doing so will come at a vastly inflated cost," thanks to climate disasters, COVID-19 supply chain issues, and other global problems.
"The U.S., a major grain exporter, can help fill some of those voids," but not enough to offset the losses of Ukrainian and Russian wheat and corn, Politico's Lee reports. Worldwide, the number of people suffering from acute hunger could double over the next year and a half, according to some estimates, and "the crisis will likely push up already elevated food prices in the U.S., but nowhere near the spikes across other countries."
"It wasn't all gloom just a few weeks ago," the WFP's Beasley wrote. "There were early glimmers that economies were beginning to recover from the pandemic. But Russia's invasion has reminded us that the root cause of hunger around the world is human folly and reckless disregard for human life."