The Wheat Route is Interrupted People in the World Famished

The Wheat Route is Interrupted: People in the World Famished by Hunger

by Michele Farina

The war has exacerbated the crisis: crops are in jeopardy, overland trade is impossible

War is (also) a matter of calories: Agricultural exports from Ukraine were enough to keep 400 million people alive in the world, from Africa to the Middle East to Asia. Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskiy told The Economist that before the invasion, Kyiv exported 5 million tons of wheat a month. Instead, in April we managed to send about a million of them abroad.

The grain road interrupted. 98% of Ukraine’s grain (106 million tons in 2021, a historic record) collected in peacetime in the 1,200 30-meter high steel supersilos scattered across the country has to pass through the major terminal in Odessa, which it typically used 100,000 people. With the blockade of the port (where 20 million tons of products are stored) an essential source of fighting the global crisis has dried up.

We only missed Putin’s war: already in early 2022, David Beasley, who heads the World Food Program (WFP), recalled that the number of people on the edge of hunger had almost doubled in the last 5 years (from 108 to 193 million). for a chain of pre-war factors: pandemic, energy costs, climate change-related disasters. This year, however, forecasts of lower harvests are a little bit everywhere: in the US (less than 21% in the Great Plains compared to 2022), in China (due to flooding), in Europe (due to little rain), in India (according to world wheat producer to Russia) due to the severe heat and drought that have prompted the New Delhi government in recent days to halt the export of what remains the basis of daily food for millions and millions of people: bread .

Theft of the silos

26 countries have imposed severe restrictions on the export of agricultural products (reducing world trade calories by 15%). We missed the invasion of Ukraine: WFP, which feeds 115 million people, bought 50% of its wheat from Ukraine last year. And now? Her boss Beasley says the war in Europe and the blockade of the Black Sea put 47 million more at risk of acute food insecurity. With an imbalance that particularly affects the poorest: in developed countries, on average 20% of income is spent on food, in developing countries 25%; in sub-Saharan Africa it reaches 40%.

The weapon of the sunflowers

According to Moscow, the blame is on Western sanctions. Russian agriculture is not doing badly. If the invaders can ban Ukrainian peasants in the occupied Kherson region from sowing sunflowers, arguing that such high harvests would offer shelter to the resistance, at least this summer, harvests for Russian farmers are assured. And the market is there: the countries that will receive the most wheat from Moscow will be Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The Ukrainian government accuses opponents of having confiscated (stolen) 500,000 tons of grain from the silos of the conquered territories in order to supply friendly regimes (like that of Damascus) with food from Crimea. There will also be no roses for Russian agriculture in the medium term: last year, Putin’s country spent 870 million euros on pesticides and 410 million on seeds (mostly from the European Union). In any case, Russian wheat is not used in the world to compensate for the non-arrival of Ukrainian wheat.

The calorie war is also a matter of millimeters. Not the caliber of the howitzers, but the distance between the tracks. Ukrainian railways (heirs to the Soviet system) are narrow-gauge, like those of their enemies: 1,524 millimeters versus 1,435 in most European countries. Because of this, it would be even more difficult to transport grain by the ton by land (for unloading and transshipment at the border) bypassing the port blockade. Not to mention that the Russians are bombing the bridges where guns and grain are passing (in the opposite direction).

In the last decade, Ukraine, with its incredibly fertile land, high technology (drones instead of scarecrows) and cheap labor (300 euros a month in the countryside), had tripled agricultural production and became a breadbasket for many countries around the world, such as like South Africa and even Saudi Arabia, which controls 200,000 hectares of cultivated land in the land of sunflowers with its sovereign wealth fund. Or for China, which has invested heavily with its state-owned grain giants (like Cofco, 800,000 tons exported from Ukraine). Not even blocking the flow of wheat is an objection to Putin’s war.

May 22, 2022 (Modification May 22, 2022 | 10:45 p.m.)