The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization declared Friday that “supporting agricultural resilience in Ukraine and around the world has never been more important to avert a global food crisis” and reported that food commodity prices just hit their highest levels ever.
The FAO’s Food Price Index—which tracks monthly international price changes in food commodities—hit a new high in March, surpassing February’s record level.
Measured at 159.3 points in March, the index marked a 12.6% increase from February. The level reflects new all-time highs for vegetable oils and cereals, which the agency largely blamed on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its disruptions to exports from both those countries.
The reverberations of such disruptions, which come amid existing conflicts and the Covid-19 pandemic, fall widely and with disastrous consequences for global hunger and malnutrition. Ukraine and Russia together provide around 30% and 20% of global wheat and maize exports, respectively; they account together for about 80% of global sunflower exports.
Ukraine’s “food supply chain is falling apart,” warned Jakob Kern, U.N. World Food Program emergency coordinator for the Ukraine crisis, last month. And for millions in the Middle East and North Africa, the export disruptions have dealt a particularly heavy blow because the region imports over 90% of its food.
FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said Friday that the record-high prices have imposed “extraordinary costs on global consumers, particularly the poorest.” Adding to the agency’s concerns is Russia’s role as the world’s biggest exporter of fertilizers.
“Today’s high fertilizer prices,” Qu added, “could lead to lower fertilizer use next season and possibly beyond, with the real prospect of a drop in food productivity leading to even higher food prices.”
“This would potentially result in even more undernourished people in 2022 and months to come,” he said.
To respond to the crisis, Qu said that food exports “should not be restricted or taxed.”
The FAO’s latest index came a day after advocates for Indigenous and small holder farmers called on the U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to hold an urgent session on the heightened food crisis centering the voices of those most equipped to plot out a just response.
Formally called the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism for relations with the CFS, the group expressed “a sense of extraordinary urgency” in an open letter to CFS chair Gabriel Ferrero.
“The alarming situation requires an immediate, sound, inclusive, effective, and globally coordinated policy response for the short-, mid-, and long-term,” the letter states. “It is time for the CFS, as the foremost inclusive intergovernmental and international platform on food security and nutrition, to play a central and coordinating role in the policy responses to this new layer of crisis.”
“Global discussions on policy responses to this new emergency,” the group added, “need to fully include our voices as the most important actors for food security and nutrition: peasants and smallholder farmers, Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, pastoralists, food, and agricultural workers, landless, fisherfolks, consumers, and urban food insecure.”
In a press statement, the civil society group said the moment could be seized to break away from the dominant chemical-dependent, centralized agricultural system that’s worsening the climate and ecological crises while doing little to address global hunger.
The statement notes that “there is an increased narrative that emphasizes the need for a more productivist approach to agriculture, rather than support for small scale family farmers. There are also increased state subsidies in many cases for fertilizers, rather than support for environmentally friendly approaches or agroecology. These aspects, together with the very high carbon footprint of the war are an increased threat to our planet and aggravating factors of the climate crisis.”
However, the group said, “this is not a production crisis to be addressed by agrobusiness-as-usual recipes” but rather “another layer of a systemic crisis that had already generated hunger and malnutrition before.”
The statement further rejects “the agro-industrial narrative, with its narrow focus on increased production at any cost, global value chains and short-term solutions,” because it “fails to address the structural and complex causes of intertwined crises, conflicts, inequalities, and climate collapse.”
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