A new report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), titled “The war in Ukraine and the rush to feed the world”explores in detail the multiple direct and indirect impacts of the war on Ukraine and provides 30 short- and medium-term solutions to help respond to the crisis and improve the resilience of global food systems. As the report points out, the looming global food crisis is not about the world’s ability to produce enough food. Rather, it is about the inability of food systems to safely and equitably store and distribute enough food, and the inputs needed to produce it, in the face of ongoing war disruption.
Together, Russia and Ukraine account for about 12% of total food calories traded worldwide, and both are critical exporters of commodities such as wheat (28% of world trade) and sunflower oil (69%)., according to the International Food Policy Institute. The UN World Food Program (WFP) buys from Ukraine half of the wheat it distributes around the world. Additionally, as exports from these countries fall, some other leading exporting countries have announced licensing bans or restrictions designed to protect their own food supplies.
As a result, prices are skyrocketing, not just for food but also for essential farm inputs like fertilizer and fuel, of which Russia has long been a key supplier. About half of the world’s population depends on food production using fertilizers, and a drop in fertilizer supply could severely affect exposed populations for up to four years, unless immediate steps are taken to increase supplies. In addition, the ripple effect of disruptions in the fertilizer supply chain will reach consumers around the world.
The impact of the war on fuel prices has been equally dramatic. Coupled with the additional cost to farmers for the fuel they need to run their equipment, last-mile road transportation accounts for up to 40% of food costs in many developing countries. Then, as fuel prices rise, the total cost of food risescreating a vicious circle.
To make matters worse, the current crisis coincides with high levels of debt in many developing economies around the world. Largely due to public spending to address the challenges presented by COVID-19, some 60% of low-income countries are currently in or at high risk of debt distress, compared to just 30% in 2015. , according to the International Monetary Fund.
“According to the BCG analysis, 45 countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America are the most exposed to the impacts of the global food crisis. In the case of South America, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela are the countries with the highest risk, followed by Bolivia and Ecuador”Explain Federico MuxiManaging Director and Senior Partner of BCG. “The classification as a high-risk country reflects exposure to a variety of potentially negative factors, such as dependence on food or fertilizer imports, challenging macroeconomic conditions, exposure to climate risks, or situations of social conflict, among others,” Add.
“While this crisis will affect all of us around the world in significant ways, low-income economies are at risk of devastation and potential unrest,” said Ertharin CousinCEO and founder of Food Systems for the Future, and co-author of the report. “We are not just talking about the poorest, who are already going hungry. We’re also talking about people who were recently able to afford a loaf of bread for their families and now literally won’t be able to.”
Alleviating the current crisis requires, above all, an immediate and coordinated emergency humanitarian response by all stakeholders (governments, development banks and institutions, NGOs and private companies) to meet the most pressing humanitarian needs. They must provide not only food and financial support, but also the necessary seeds, inputs, tools and technical assistance to support sustainable intensification in the country and other crop substitution actions. The report outlines a solution set of 30 key recommendations for all stakeholders.
“There is a lot of talk about the individual components of the crisis, but it is critical that we look at things holistically and recognize the interdependence of factors ranging from rising food, fertilizer and fuel costs to saturated levels of debt, related to climate, ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world, and COVID-19. There are multiple latent risks that are at the limit due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia”, said Shalini Unnikrishnan, managing director and partner at BCG, the global Food & Nature leader in the firm’s Social Impact practice, and co-author of the report.
“Equally important, we need a coordinated effort across sectors to rethink and repair our food systems, making them more equitable, more resilient and responsive in times of great need,” Unnikrishnan continued. “Avoiding more such crises will require diversifying food production across diets, supply chains and markets, and addressing the indebtedness, economic inequalities and market distortions that have contributed to the current crisis.”