The war in Ukraine is being felt in empty bellies thousands of miles from Eastern Europe. The UN released its annual report on global food insecurity. And its findings are dire.
Up to 828 million people were facing hunger in 2021 — an additional 150 million people since 2019, an increase driven conflict, climate and economic decline. Also worrying is the growing inequality with more hunger amongst women and in Africa
What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy for millions who live there and has produced a maelstrom of suffering elsewhere too.
Many low-income countries, where hunger is a constant concern, are heavily reliant on wheat imports from Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Many countries also rely on the Russian Federation for fertilizer imports.
The war has cut off most of these supplies, sending food prices soaring, and raising concerns for next year’s crop. The UN report estimates that an additional 13 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are suffering from hunger because of the war in Ukraine.
In Ethiopia, the cost of a food basket to feed a family rose by 64 per cent between 2019 and March of this year. In Kenya, cooking oil has doubled in price. Canada’s aid is reaching fewer people, even though more people need help.
Many families are making tough choices. Some can’t afford a variety of nutritious foods and focus on getting enough calories from rice or corn. It fills the belly, but nutrition suffers.
Some are pulling their kids out of school or selling livestock. Short-term survival tactics with long term costs.
Canada recently committed $250 million to humanitarian food assistance in developing countries. This includes matching donations to Humanitarian Coalition member agencies, up to $5 million until July 17. But with food needs this year estimated at more than $20 billion, Canada can and should do more.
Canada needs to help countries build more resilient local food systems.
Indeed, our global food system is vulnerable to such crises because it relies on a few staple crops for export, which are grown in a few countries, and traded by a handful of companies. Many governments provide financial support to their famers, but this is not usually structured to support the nutritious fruits and vegetables that are often lacking in diets.
Long-term responses include supporting nature-positive approaches that work for people and for the planet — things that increase production and support food security, while also fighting climate change and reducing inequality.
In practical terms, this means growing diverse types of crops and livestock, more learning and local innovation, strong farmer organizations, and support for women who lead the response to these crises, but lack access to resources, such as land, finance, and knowledge.
We’ve been here before. Shocks from climate change, conflict and economic disruptions mean we’ll be back again. But we can take action now to ensure we’re better prepared for the next crisis.
Carol Thiessen is senior policy adviser with Canadian Foodgrains Bank.