Urgent efforts needed to ensure global food security
Food price increases are having devastating effects on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.
People most impacted by higher food prices live in the developing world, where a larger percentage of incomes is spent on food.
Global food prices started to rise in mid-2020 when businesses shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, straining supply chains.
The pandemic has had effects on global supply chains. In the early phase, lockdowns and mobility restrictions led to severe disruptions in various supply chains, causing supply shortages.
Farmers dumped out milk and let fruits and vegetables rot due to a lack of available truckers to transport goods to supermarkets, where prices spiked as consumers stockpiled food. A shortage of migrant labour was felt as lockdowns restricted movement across the world.
Since then, there have been problems with key crops in many parts of the world. Brazil, the world’s top soybean exporter, suffered from severe drought in 2021.
China’s wheat crop has been among the worst ever this year. Concerns about food security, heightened during the pandemic, have led some countries to hoard staples to ward off future shortages, limiting supplies on the global market.
Food prices have also jumped. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February dramatically worsened the outlook for food prices.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to rising energy and food prices, which will inevitably mean higher inflation globally. Both Russia and Ukraine are exporters of major commodities, and the disruptions from the war and sanctions have caused global prices to soar, especially for oil and natural gas.
Wheat prices are at record highs — Ukraine and Russia account for 30% of global wheat exports. These effects will lead inflation to persist longer than previously expected. The impact will likely be bigger for low-income countries and emerging markets, where food and energy are a larger share of consumption (as high as 50% in Africa).
The World Bank forecasts wheat prices could rise more than 40% in 2022. The Bank expects agricultural prices to fall in 2023 versus 2022. But that depends on increased crop supplies from Argentina, Brazil and the United States — by no means guaranteed.
The World Bank is working with countries on the preparation of $12bn of new projects for the next 15 months to respond to the food security crisis. These projects are expected to support agriculture, social protection to cushion the effects of higher food prices, and water and irrigation projects, with the majority of resources going to Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.
In addition, the World Bank’s existing portfolio includes undisbursed balances of $18.7bn in projects with direct links to food and nutrition security issues, covering agriculture and natural resources, nutrition, social protection, and other sectors.
Altogether, this would amount to over $30bn available for implementation to address food insecurity over the next 15 months.
It is time countries made concerted efforts to increase the supply of energy and fertiliser, help farmers increase plantings and crop yields, remove policies that block exports and imports and ensure global food security.