Tuesday 24 May 2022
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Food crisis due to hit world; Qatar says gas replacement impractical

An attacked Ukraine and a sanctioned Russia accounted earlier for a third of global wheat and barley exports; they were also top exporters of grains and cooking oil; the conflict has dried up food supplies

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G7 leaders have called for an extraordinary session of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in a bid to prevent the Ukrainian conflict from turning into a global food crisis, while French President Emmanuel Macron presented his own “initiative for food security.”

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global and barley exports, which countries in Asia and Africa rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidised bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and sunflower seed oil used for cooking and food processing.

According to a communique adopted on 24 March at the summit of the world’s biggest economies, the Russian offensive on its neighbouring country “places global food security under increased pressure.” Therefore, the G7 leaders agreed to use “all instruments and funding mechanisms” and involve the “relevant international institutions” to address food security, including support for the “continued Ukrainian production efforts.”

“We call for an extraordinary session of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to address the consequences on world food security and agriculture arising from the Russian aggression against Ukraine,” reads the communique.

The countries agreed to avoid export bans and other “trade-restrictive measures” and to maintain open and transparent markets, in accordance with World Trade Organisation rules.

French President Emmanuel Macron has used the summit in Brussels to present his own “initiative for food security.” The world is facing an “unprecedented” food crisis, Macron said, adding that it is “a direct consequence of Russia’s choices and the war.” In the president’s opinion, the situation is already difficult and might further deteriorate “in 12-18 months.”

Speaking at the press briefing, the French leader, who is regularly speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, urged to be “responsible” and to allow Ukraine to continue sowing.

Otherwise, he emphasised, the “famine” would be “certainly inevitable” in many countries, which are highly dependent on agricultural supplies from Russia and Ukraine.

Among the countries most at risk, Macron mentioned Egypt, as well as some other countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Macron’s “initiative for food security” involves an emergency plan for the release of stocks in the event of a crisis, a multilateral commitment not to impose restrictions on the export of agricultural raw materials, a temporary increase in production thresholds, supporting sustainable food production in the most vulnerable countries, and creating a mechanism which would enable providing them with agricultural products “in sufficient quantity and at reasonable prices,” if such necessity arises.

Food security was discussed on Thursday by other leaders as well, including US President Joe Biden.

Macron has been warning about the global food crisis for some time and recently announced some domestic measures poised to mitigate the consequences of military action in Ukraine.

Stressing that Ukraine and Russia “are true barns for the international food supply,” Macron, who is facing the election on April 10, said that he planned to introduce food vouchers to help “the most modest households and the middle classes to face these additional costs.” However, the details of a food support program are yet to be revealed.

Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s biggest crop suppliers. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the two countries represent 53% of global trade in sunflower oil and seeds and 27% in wheat.

UNCTAD earlier said that all countries would inevitably be impacted by the conflict-generated crisis. Increases in food and fuel prices “will affect the most vulnerable in developing countries, putting pressure on the poorest households which spend the highest of their income on food, resulting in hardship and hunger,” the organisation warned.

sent troops into Ukraine in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and end the conflict with the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Russia ended up recognising the two as independent states, at which point they asked for military aid.

Russia demands that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led Nato military bloc. Kyiv insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two Donbas republics by force.

To avert food crisis, farmers must switch to different cropping pattern

There are unanswered questions about how Western sanctions on Russia, the world’s top exporter, could affect its grain exports and distribution networks. Russia is also the biggest exporter of fertilizer, while Ukraine ships huge amounts of corn, rye, oats and millet. The Black Sea region is a top producer of the grains used to feed livestock worldwide.

Australia and India have responded with increased grain exports, but there’s little room for others to immediately do the same. That’s mainly due to recurrent drought, says Arnaud Petit, executive director of the International Grains Council.

The US produced around 44 million tonnes of for the 2021-2022 season. Just two to three years ago, it was over 50 million tonnes. Petit pointed to drought and farmers switching to more profitable crops.

Canada, Argentina and Australia could try to ramp up production for the coming season that ends in mid-2023, but it’s too early to tell if farmers are changing their planting patterns to focus more on grains like wheat.

Qatar says replacing Russian gas impractical

Meanwhile, the energy minister of Qatar, Saad al Kaabi, has said that Replacing Russian natural gas on the European is “not practically possible”. In an interview with CNN on 24 March, the official, who is also the president and CEO of state-owned QatarEnergy, noted that “from 30 to 40% of the total volume of gas supplied to the world comes from Russia.”

The EU imposed economic sanctions on over the conflict in Ukraine and announced it would move towards gradually slashing the consumption of Russian natural gas this year. Over 40% of the EU’s gas imports come from Russia.

However, al Kaabi said Qatar would not impose sanctions on the Russian oil and gas sector, stressing that “energy should stay out of politics.” According to the minister, Qatar will not take sides in the Ukraine crisis.

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