There are mounting concerns over a possible global food crisis as Russia's invasion of Ukraine threatens grain production and distribution. The two countries are major producers of wheat and corn, among other crops, and together make up some 30% of global wheat exports.
In Ukraine, the ports that served as the country's export bases are unusable. Russia, meanwhile, has hinted at grain and fertilizer export restrictions amid economic sanctions by the West.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that global wheat exports will drop by 2% because of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Considering other risk factors including a poor crop this summer, the decrease could very well be even larger.
The Group of Seven major industrial nations say they will strengthen cooperation with international organizations and other relevant groups to avoid wheat supply concerns. They need to implement effective measures.
In war-torn Ukraine, food is not reaching some areas due to severed transport routes. The international community must hurry to provide humanitarian aid. Assistance to resume production and shipment capabilities is also important as the invasion has ruined farmland and distribution bases.
Developing and emerging countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia that depend on Russian and Ukrainian grain will be greatly affected. If grain shortages worsen, it could lead to political instability.
Grain prices are already spiking. If a tight supply-demand balance of staple food such as bread and pasta continues and prices stay high for a long time, people's everyday lives will be directly impacted. The 2010 wheat price surge caused by a poor harvest in Russia fueled dissatisfaction among people in the Middle East. The Arab Spring pro-democracy movement emerged during this time.
Major industrial nations need to stabilize the grain supply by tapping existing stocks and reserves. Grain producers such as the United States and Australia have significant roles to fill. It's also essential to gain cooperation from China and other major grain consumers.
Furthermore, there must be scrutiny of speculative investments that inflate grain prices. To do this, each country should share their data on production volumes and stockpiles, and create a system to manage supplies in tandem. Alternative types of staple grains including rice should also be considered.
The world saw moves to enclose food and medical supplies in the coronavirus crisis. Actions by countries only pursuing their own interests in times of emergency cannot be tolerated. It's time a global cooperative system was formed to avert a crisis.