RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR AND GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS

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“This war has and will have no winner. Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects” – Amin Awad (UN Crisis Coordinator) 

On 2nd June, at the United Nations Security Council, the US accused Russia of using food as a weapon against Ukraine creating a global food security crisis. Ukraine grows enough food to feed 400 million people, and Ukraine and Russia together account for a third of the world’s wheat exports. But Russia’s invasion and blockade of Ukrainian ports are preventing exports of grain as Nick Schifrin recently witnessed in Southern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s largest steel plant ArcelorMittal still faces the threat of Russian airstrikes. In March, the war forced ArcelorMittal to close for the first time since World War II. Now the workers are back and blast furnace number six is firing. The plant produces six million tons of steel per year. Before the war, the plant was one of Ukraine’s largest employers and one of its largest exporters. Iron ore and semi-finished iron are the country’s single largest export. But the war has cut production here in half, and it blocked the company’s traditional routes to the Middle East and Africa, says chief administrative officer Artyom Filipyev.

The impact of the Ukraine war on food security is that agricultural areas will not be sown and are temporarily inaccessible. A large part of the cultivated areas are occupied, some of which are damaged due to military operations and contaminated with explosive products, making these lands no longer arable. We also know that Russian occupational troops are deliberately destroying Ukrainians’ agricultural equipment, exacerbating the expected food crisis. It was also emphasised that even after the liberation of the occupied territory, sowing will not be possible until total de-mining is performed.

The zone of risk farming in Ukraine, which are areas not suitable for cultivation, or inaccessible, is 202,600 square kilometres, which is approximately 34 per cent of the total land area of Ukraine. This area was identified based on a comprehensive cartographic summary of the military operations and the location of Russian occupation troops taking into account the buffer zone of the frontline territory. Currently, there is 110,053.6 sq. km of arable land located within the risk farming zone in Ukraine, which is 30 per cent of all arable land in the country. With Ukraine under martial law, all domestic produce will be retained within the country for local consumption.  The decline in their exports of food products will be more significant than their percentage of inaccessible arable lands.

Ukraine’s reduced agricultural potential is primarily a hit to Europe, which imports more than 32 per cent of all Ukrainian agricultural products. This also devastates poor countries that cannot afford the new food price. The large-scale hostilities now taking place in Ukraine are setting a precedent in the history of modern civilisation:  no matter whether it’s in the social, cultural, economic and educational dimensions or in the balance of agrarian economy and nature.

Ukraine is one of the largest exporters of wheat, corn and oil: but Europe’s breadbasket today is scarred. Ukraine and the U.S. accuse Russia of targeting agricultural infrastructure, including silos and railroad bridges Ukraine needs to export. Russia has even fired at farmers and tractors. And Ukraine says what Russia doesn’t target, it steals. Trucks with hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain have been moved to Russian-occupied territory. In farming villages occupied and destroyed by Russian troops, farmers have lost their livelihoods and many of the animals they sold to survive.

In conclusion, the solution is to end this war. And even if the war were to end today, it would take a significant amount of time and investment to bring Ukraine to its pre-war levels of agricultural productivity.

The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, M.Phil. [email protected]

By Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe