A world going hungry? How conflict and climate change disrupt global food supply | Business Beyond

A world going hungry? How conflict and climate change disrupt global food supply | Business Beyond

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The world is struggling to feed itself. A planet that once looked like it was winning the  war on starvation is now heading for disaster. “There is one person dying from hunger every  minute across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.   In West Africa, the region is facing  its worst hunger crisis in a decade But when there’s never been more food and there’s  never been more farming, how is this possible? It's an extraordinary situation, isn't it? A world  of great abundance. I mean, we have a massive   surplus of food, twice as many calories are  produced than humans need to support themselves,   and yet we see rising hunger once again Keep watching to find out what brought   us here. Was it the war in Ukraine?  Was it environmental destruction?

We have these three factors  coming together, climate change,   hunger and conflict, locking us into  this vicious cycle. A kind of trap. Or is it simply that the system is broken? Many kids think that food comes from the fridge,   right? So that is because food is available  through distribution systems. [...] What is   being pressure tested here is that  capacity for that system to survive Is the world food system about to collapse?  And if so, what can we do to stop it?  Find out in this edition of Business Beyond. In recent years, the prices for some of   the world’s most crucial foodstuffs have been  rising. Dairy products, cereals, and vegetable   oils are now significantly more expensive  than they were even a couple of years ago.

One recent event has sent them soaring  to new heights: the war in Ukraine. We haven't been able to export around 20  million tons of agricultural commodities,   which we should definitely have  exported if there was no war The Ukrainian government says that since  Russia’s invasion in February of 2022,   around a quarter of the land usually used  for planting crops, has become unfarmable. “...because some territories are partly  occupied, and on some territories keep  

military battles, and on some still mines.” Not only that, but  much of the produce that IS   being successfully farmed for export is  being prevented from leaving the country. A Russian blockade of Ukraine’s  crucial Black Sea ports   means millions of tonnes of  wheat, for example, are trapped. The EU calls Russia’s actions a war crime, saying it’s weaponising the lives  of the world’s starving poor. Because when Ukraine’s not  exporting… the world has a problem. 3.03 Jennifer Clapp - Canada Research Chair in  Global Food Security and Sustainability  “So together, Russia and Ukraine supply  around 25% of the world's traded wheat.  

That's not the wheat that's produced, it's just  the wheat that goes on international markets.   The problem with this happening is that we  actually have a very concentrated international   grain trade situation where just a handful  of countries actually are the ones who are   exporting most of the grain that gets  traded. For example, just seven countries   plus the European Union account for almost  90% of the traded wheat on the world market.   And just four countries account for over 80%  of the traded maize on world markets. And   Russia and Ukraine together account for around  60% of the world's sunflower oil. And these   are all really important commodities in the  food system: wheat, maize, and cooking oil.“ …And because Ukraine is exporting less of those  things, their prices are rising. While wealthy   countries can to some extent brush off the rising  costs, for developing nations: it’s a disaster. “Nearly half of African countries import more than  a third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.  

And, for example, Somalia sources more than 90%  from those two countries. So the Ukraine war   has actually revealed just how much lower income  countries depend on the world market for the   basic food supplies to feed their people. And  this dependency on food imports, it's dangerous  The Russian blockade of the Black  Sea means Ukraine and its neighbours   are looking for alternative ways to get  Ukraine’s exports to where they need to be.  “We haven't stopped any exports.  We haven't put any rejections or   any restrictions on possibilities to export  grains from Ukraine. We do our best, as I said, to   increase the volume exported  through other routes.”

But replacing sea routes is not proving simple. “The ports are closed now and they have to do  it by land. So you have either trains, trucks or   barges. In terms of rail tracks, the complications  are: difference of gauge - the width of the rails.   You also have the fact that the Romanian  infrastructure, rail infrastructure, is at max   capacity at the moment, and it cannot take a lot  more. It needs investments that cannot happen   within two, three weeks. [...] What we've seen as  well is trains would arrive at a certain point and  

then they didn't have the paperwork and so they  had to wait for the paperwork. And that blocks.” The absence of Ukrainian exports threatens to push  the world over the edge and into a full-blown food   crisis. But that wouldn’t be the case, if  the system wasn’t already in dire straits. Some less wealthy nations were already  struggling to feed their populations   because of factors well beyond their control.  “Even before the Ukraine crisis, there are  countries like the countries on the edge of   the Sahara, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and  a few others, but also the horn of Africa,   Kenya, Somalia and others that are  suffering because of climate change.” “So we see these impacts of climate  change on agriculture, things like   increasing temperature, more variable  and more unpredictable rainfall patterns,   and more intense and more frequent extreme weather  events, things like flash floods or storms.  

And these, of course, affect crop yields. And  when crop yields are affected, supply falls. And   of course, then prices rise, and higher prices,  of course, contribute to food insecurity.” And as is so often the case when it comes  to climate change, the biggest losers   are not the biggest emitters - the industrialised   nations - but the countries worst  equipped to weather the impact.

“So this is happening all over the world. But  impacts are perhaps most markedly felt in parts   of Africa and Asia because of the prevalence  of poorer and more agrarian economies.” Agnes Kalibata - President of  Alliance for a Green Revolution in   Africa & former Rwanda Agriculture Minister “If you look at Africa here for example,   we experience droughts, we've been  experiencing droughts since 2014   and recognizing that that has undermined  the ability of the agricultural sector to   be able to provide food is something  that the world needs to recognize.” 7.47 Rising global temperatures have already  placed less wealthy nations in Africa   and Asia in a position where their citizens  won’t be able to withstand today’s rising prices. 7.59

Agnes Kalibata - President of Alliance  for a Green Revolution in Africa & former   Rwanda Agriculture Minister “There's a risk that about   58 million people in Africa might go hungry,   mostly because of a combination of those  factors, a factor of increasing climate change,   but also then increasing prices that make whatever  is available outside the reach of most people.” 8.15 ROB WATTS: But as well as these two major external  factors - the war in Ukraine and climate change   - there is another significant threat to the  global food system. And that’s the system itself. 8.28 BROKEN SYSTEM Janani Vivekananda - Adelphi climate think tank  “So we actually have enough food being  produced to feed 12 billion people,   and yet we still have 800 million  people going hungry. So this is not   about producing enough or not producing  enough food, it's about access poverty.”

8.38 ROB WATTS: That’s right. There is more than enough  food in the world to go round. The problem is,   some countries find it easier  to get hold of it than others. 8.50 Janani Vivekananda - Adelphi climate think tank “The current food system does not do anything   to address this because all incentives are around   production. So what we don't see are  policy incentives to move us towards  

more equitable production, more sustainable  production and also addressing these issues   of how to get food to those who most need it,  and how to ensure that food is affordable.” “Most countries were producing food and were  focusing on producing food as the way of ensuring   food sectors at country level. We then moved into  a global food system when the distribution of food   became more important than production of food.  So it didn't matter where food was produced  

as long as it goes to your front door, right?  So the extent that actually many kids think that   food comes from the fridge, right? So that is  because food is available through distribution   systems. Now, what is being put to question here  is that ability to get food irrespective of what   is produced, what is being pressure tested here  is that capacity for that system to survive.“ And there are those who now theorise  that the global food system is showing   the signs of a system that is about to fail. “The reason why chronic hunger has been rising   since 2015, is that as this system becomes weaker,  shocks are transmitted more easily through it.   And that's a classic sign of a system approaching   its tipping point, getting very  close to the point of collapse.”

The writer George Monbiot is among those  who believe we’ve seen a key global system   in this state before… Just prior  to the 2008 financial crash. “The global food system has acquired very similar  characteristics to the global financial system.   In systems theory terms, It's nodes. In other  words, its major operators have become very large.   On one estimate, four corporations control 90%  of global grain trade and the seeds, chemicals,   machinery processing, packaging, et cetera,  as well. We've seen the behaviour of those big   corporations begin to synchronise. They've become  linked in all sorts of obscure ways, quite similar  

to how the financial institutions became linked.” The four companies George Monbiot is referring   to are known in international  circles as the ABCD companies. They're called the ABCD because  that stands for the first   letter in each of their names. So that's Archer  Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus.  

And these companies all date back  over 100 years, some even longer. “They're basically logistics firms. They operate  in many countries. They own ships, rail cars,   they're getting new stuff from ATB. They  don't grow any food, they're not hoarding  

it particularly, but they have an extraordinary  amount of information. And because we don't have   an international kind of public grain system,  they know a lot about what's happening in   all the major importer-exporter countries and  there's no other operators that can rival that.” “In any sector where there's just a handful of  companies that are controlling all the business   in a particular sector. It can raise  concerns. It can raise concerns about  

potential for collusion among those firms  conspiring to raise prices or it can raise concern   about the fact that those companies are really  controlling the possibilities that others have   to buy and sell things because they are  the main middle operators that are moving   grains. So countries that are exporting  don't have a lot of choice in terms of   who's going to move their grain and the  buyers also don't have a lot of choice.” Grain isn’t the only crucial  food commodity controlled by ((12.50 BUNGE PICS)) just a handful of companies. ((12.52 CARGILL PICS)) There are others. And there  are those who argue that ((12.56 DREYFUS PICS))

these corporations are playing a major  role in making food unaffordable. 13.00 Devinder Sharma - Food & trade policy analyst ”We all blame the food inflation for the   price rise that we witness in the  supermarkets. But in reality it is   not the price rise as far as food prices are  concerned. It is the greed of the companies   or the large corporations which is  actually driving the prices high.”

13.20 Devinder Sharma argues that corporations are  taking advantage of the current situation on   food markets to justify unnecessary price  rises, and to line their own pockets. 13.31 Devinder Sharma - Food & trade policy analyst “Nobody wants to even know that the company's   profits have been ploughed in to  provide bonuses to the top management.   And whereas the prices for the consumers  are going up and then the companies tell,   oh, we are sorry, we can't do anything because  the inflation rise is what is being passed on to   consumers. [...] You can always blame farmers  for a little rise in prices and you say,  

oh, it is the food inflation, but what about  the greed inflation that is taking place? 13.09 ROB WATTS: Representatives of the global  agricultural and food industry reject the idea   that large companies are dominating the sector,  and to the detriment of consumers the world over. 14.22 Iliana Axiotiades - Secretary General of  Coceral (Europe agricultural trade body)  “You also have a lot of small companies. You have  two people behind the desk. You have small and   medium sized companies. And there's a role for  everyone. You have those who do international  

trading, intra-EU trading, those who will focus  on imports, so those who focus on exports,   et cetera. [...] So traders are not influencing  the type of production because there are all kinds   of traders, all size of traders, and there are  traders who are specialising in different areas.” Nevertheless, we have a global system,  viewed by many as already flawed,   that is now facing a series of shocks  beyond its control. And that is what   has raised fears of a catastrophic  collapse of the world’s food supplies. “If the food system collapses, well, we’re  talking about a whole different scale of effects.  

Basically it means that the rich will continue to  eat and the poor just won't eat at all. Food will   not go to the poor because food prices will,  soar only the rich will be able to afford it. And   it's almost a sort of horror  film scenario. It's dystopian.”

So what needs to be done if the world is to avoid   catastrophe? Well there is a whole  feast of possible solutions. So let’s   work through some of them. First of all,  can we invent our way out of trouble? “There's some really exciting new technologies  which have come along just when we need them   most. The biggest shift is going to be towards  precision fermentation, using microbes to produce   protein and fat instead of using animals  and soya and palm oil and the rest of it.   [...] You could set up a brewery outside  every town. You can have local businesses   using precision fermentation to brew protein  and fat, which can then be turned by those   local businesses into products suitable for  the local market, completely autonomously.

The idea of localising production is  at the centre of a lot of the possible   solutions to the world’s current food problems.   This could help end the inequality of access  between wealthy nations and less wealthy nations. “I think what you would do better is to have these  stronger national, regional food systems, more   production, but also exchange of food that would  then engage in the global system and benefit from   the rules. But it wouldn't be dictated to by the  global rules. You would be looking for more scale   appropriate rules where you need them and without  inhibiting global commerce. You wouldn't allow  

global commerce to overshadow the much larger  amount of food that is domestic and even local   that is being met in a  local or a regional system.” As well as changing where we get our food from -  we might also need to start changing what we eat. “We need to strengthen the capability  of countries to feed their people.  

Part of this will come from diversification,  like I said earlier, growing what we do well.   And there are many commodities here in Africa  that people can do well that they can grow.   And we need to invest in innovation that takes  these commodities and gives us products that we   are looking for anyway in other commodities that  we import. So increasing the place of cassava,   the place of millet in bread that we use wheat  for, or in other products that we use wheat for,   is something that is beginning to happen and it's  something that countries should double down on.” Then there’s also the issue of ensuring  the citizens of these countries   can afford the food that’s available.

“What you want to do is put money in  people's hands. You want to do that.   You want to do that through welfare  programs because Covid showed like 160   or more countries, some of the  poorest countries in the world   put money in people's hands, people who'd  lost their jobs, and that gave them that.   They found food. There’s food in the system  and you want people to be able to access it.“ And how do you put more  money in more people’s hands?   Well some activists are clear on the answer to  that. It’s a clear case of wealth redistribution.

“The fortunes of food billionaires  have risen during the COVID pandemic   and there are now 62 new food  billionaires in the world.   So people in poorer countries spend more than  twice as much of their money on food than those in   rich countries. And while inflation is rising  everywhere, the food price hikes are particularly   devastating for low-wage workers whose health  and livelihoods have already been vulnerable.   One measure to address this could be that  the government start implementing progressive   taxation measures to tax these excessive corporate  profits that were made during the pandemic.” New technology, localising trade, tackling climate  change and taxing the rich. Just some of the   solutions that could rescue the world  food system from the brink of collapse.

The stakes could not be higher -  millions of people’s lives are at risk.   The tools are there to prevent a true catastrophe.  It’s time for governments to use them. That’s all from this edition of  Business Beyond. If you’ve enjoyed it   please hit like and subscribe, and check  out our playlist. Our recent video about   the global boom in billionaires is well  worth a watch. Until next time, take care.

2022-07-09 04:26

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