As global food prices soar, will the EU face food shortages? | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

As the war in Ukraine continues, households around the world are feeling the heat with soaring prices for common foodstuffs like wheat, vegetable oils and sugar.

According to the Black Sea Region is a world breadbasket and Russia and Ukraine account for 29% of world wheat exports, 19% of corn exports and 78% of sunflower oil exports.

Yet the war disrupted food production and further inflated food prices. Russia has banned grain exports and Ukraine’s harvest is uncertain.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has pointed out that the global food price index reached a record high in March this year, the highest since the establishment of the FAO in 1990.

Food price indices in the EU

In the European Union, food, alcohol and tobacco prices rose 4.1% in February after rising 3.5% in January.

“It is important to remember that the real threat to food security is in poor countries, especially in countries highly dependent on imports from Ukraine, such as in the Middle East and North Africa,” explained Ariel Brunner, agricultural expert at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, an organization focused on nature conservation.

“In Europe it’s more of an inflation issue,” he told DW.

“Grains, sunflower oil and a handful of other commodities will likely experience a supply shock. But it’s important to understand that this is for the near future,” he said.

EU food trade with Russia and Ukraine

The EU has been a key trading partner in different agri-food products with Russia and Ukraine.

According to a European Parliament report, before the war the EU sent 3.7% of its overall agri-food exports to the Russian Federation and about 1.4% of its imports came from Russia. While EU agri-food exports included soybeans, cocoa beans, oilseeds and honey, imports from Russia included oilseeds, wheat, food ingredients and agricultural fertilizers.

At the same time, Ukraine accounted for 36% of grain imports to the European Union and 16% of oilseeds. In turn, the EU exported more than €3 billion in agri-food products to Ukraine in 2021.

Bottles of sunflower oil are seen in a supermarket in Germany

The price of vegetable oil has risen since Russia invaded Ukraine

Still, according to the European Commission, the bloc can easily overcome the instability caused by the war in Ukraine.

“The EU is largely self-sufficient in food, with a massive agri-food surplus, and the EU single market can be expected to once again prove its ability to absorb shocks,” the EU said. committee in a press release. It published a report in early April, which includes measures to help EU farmers increase domestic production of cereals such as wheat, maize and oilseeds.

Sommer Ackerman, a young farmer and climate activist currently based in Finland, also told DW that the EU need not fear war-induced food shortages.

“The EU is a net exporter of agri-food products. However, Putin’s attack on Ukraine has led to inflation in the prices of food production. This also includes energy prices which have an impact on fuels necessary for the manufacture and export of food and agricultural products,” she added. mentioned.

The Commission had previously warned that high input costs could continue to drive up food prices, hitting the EU’s poorest communities.

Ackerman pointed out that fFood safety outside the EU has also been affected. “Some North African countries are highly dependent on imports from Russia and Ukraine for their food security. The EU must also redirect food supply to these regions,” she said.

A warning shot for farmers?

The war in Russia also raised the price of fertilizers, making food supply costs even more expensive and angering farmers in many European countries.

Farmers in Greece and France have already staged protests asking the EU to help them tackle high fertilizer costs, which many fear will impact food production.

As the European Commission announced that farmers will receive more EU subsidies to cope with rising fuel and fertilizer costs, Pekka Pesonen, the general secretary of European agricultural lobby group Copa-Cogeca, said to DW: “We have seen this before the war, there was a huge increase in the prices of fertilizers, energy and the cost of labour. »

He added that these “increased higher costs have been very difficult to explain to other parts of the value chain: the processing industry and retailers”.

Ariel Brunner of Birdlife says that while it is clear that farmers are in trouble, this war has also exposed the problems with the current farming system in the EU.

“The heavy reliance on fossil fuels is becoming an obvious problem and some farmers are also starting to realize that they should be less dependent on artificial nitrogen fertilizers and use more agroecological practices. This also shows the vulnerability of hyper specialization, where so many farmers have moved from mixed farming to growing one type of produce,” he told DW.

“It’s very clear that much of our agricultural system has been pushed into a corner where farmers are extremely vulnerable, whether it’s through these kinds of geopolitical upheavals or climate change, which remains the big real threat to food production.”

A tractor spreading fertilizer on a wheat field near the village of Yakovlivka is seen after being hit by aerial bombardment outside Kharkiv, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues.

Ukrainian farmers are uncertain about the yields of the next harvest season due to the war.

Prepared for the crisis

Since food security in the European Union is not at risk, the bloc actually wants to tackle global food shortages far beyond its own borders.

EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said “rising food prices put the world’s most vulnerable people in an even worse situation. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is increasing pressure on food systems and threatening millions of people around the world with hunger. We are now at a turning point and urgent action is needed.”

He said the EU, together with the UN, would work to tackle food insecurity and provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable regions.

Last week, members of the European Parliament also called on the EU to increase domestic production and support countries outside Europe facing food shortages due to war.

A grocery cart is filled with essential foods in a store in Germany

Grocery bills rise in EU due to war in Ukraine

For Copa-Cogeca’s Pesonen, the EU must learn from the past and become more resilient.

Speaking from his hometown in Finland, he explained how Europe had dealt with food shortages in the past.

“About 100 years ago, Finland was part of Imperial Russia. And then because of the political difficulties and the revolutionary wars in Russia, our borders were closed. It meant that, especially in the south of the country, we were running out of food,” he told DW.

“This experience has sparked a political will to make sure that EU Member States actually work on what they call a preparedness plan, where in any type of crisis, be it political, military or even natural , we need to ensure that the population is well fed and we have stable supplies.”

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