The Ukraine Crisis Shows How Fragile Our Food Systems Are

The world’s food systems are being battered on 3 fronts: suffocated by climate change, shaken by the COVID-19 earthquake, and suffering from the cyclone of war.

June’s food price index from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has risen a staggering 50% in the last 18 months. Most recently, Ukraine’s invasion has caused severe restrictions on the export and production for cereals and fertilizers from Russia and Ukraine. The result is a rise in the prices of staples like bread and oil as well as a drop in the standard of living.

The latest IPCC climate report concluded that there would be significant yield declines in nutrients rich food like fruits and vegetables and a decrease in the nutritional content of staple foods such as rice and wheat. There will also be increased risks of disruptions to supply chains caused by extreme weather. Quality of the diet will decline.

The UN estimates that another 118 millions people will become chronically hungry due to COVID-19 between 2020-2021. This is the largest increase in human history, with the highest rises in income, labour shortages and breakdowns of supply chains.

According to Oslo’s Peace Research Institute, state-based armed conflicts have never been more prevalent than they were before the invasion of Ukraine. The picture is not much better for shocks associated with nature – the UN report that globally the number of shocks such as drought and flooding rose significantly in the 21st century and has remained high.

These crisis and shocks serve as a stark wake-up call to our fragile food systems, and to how we can make them more resilient.

Our food system is becoming more resilient despite its historically high levels of shocks. LessResistant: Agriculture is losing its diversity; food production is becoming less diverse; there is less biodiversity; the number of major exporting countries is shrinking; and the diet is not changing.

This is how you can turn it around: diversify. Diversify.

Use agriculture to diversify your energy sources. The UN has data that shows greenhouse gas emissions related to energy use in agriculture have become more concentrated. They show the three largest energy sources are responsible for 78% and 87% respectively in 1990 and 2019. Even more remarkable is the increase in concentration of top 2 energy sources: 62% in 1990, 79% in 2019,

Food and Agriculture: Reverse the loss of biodiversity. UN estimates that only nine out of the 6,000 plants that are cultivated to produce food account for 66%. The UN’s latest assessment of the state of the world’s biodiversity for food and agriculture concludes that things will get worse before they get better: “Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline.” A related analysis by the same team notes that It is clear that “many domesticated livestock breeds and crop varieties are at risk of extinction, as are many of the wild relatives of domesticated species.”

Different types of food can be grown in different countries.. Recent analysis has shown that major exporting nations have become more focused on a small number of commodity crops in their food production. Soybean and oil palm are just a few of the commodities that have been specialized in production by countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Malaysia, USA, etc.

Diversify diets. While the food choices have increased within the country, there has been little change in diets. Infants and young children are most at risk of malnutrition. UNICEF reported that only 5% of children under five years old in 50 countries with low incomes achieve an adequate level. MinimumIn the past 10 years, diet diversity has barely increased from 21% to 24 percent. But, between countries, the diets of many are more Westernized. This has led to an increase in obesity and other diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

There are many policies that can be implemented to reverse these trends, which are not possible to mention here. However they are available and effective. To get these policies to take action, policymakers must first acknowledge the importance of diversifying food systems. In too many countries, resilience is seen as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”. In a world where turbulence is increasingly becoming the norm, diversification is the ultimate insurance policy for policymakers, and for those most vulnerable to shocks—the poor, the hungry and the displaced.

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