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Challenge of global food security

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Food security and stability have a positive link. Armed conflicts have always triggered food insecurity that affects beyond the battlefield. The activities aimed to grow, harvest, process, transport, supply and market food are impeded by the war and armed conflicts. The food system is unable to operate at capacity and the supply chain chokes. The capacity of the consumer to access sufficient food also suffers due to poor purchasing power or food scarcity. Nearly a billion people around the world face food insecurity.

The already existing pressure on the prices and food chains due to COVID-19 pandemic was not over when the Russia-Ukraine war ensued. This has not only intensified the problem but has also exposed the weaknesses of international food security. Both Russia and Ukraine produce 30% of world’s traded wheat and 12% of its calories. The Black Sea region is named as the world’s breadbasket. Millions of impoverished people in Africa, Middle East and other parts of Asia depend for survival on Russia and Ukraine as key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil. However, the war has disrupted the export of wheat, corn, and barley from these two countries and huge supplies of fertilizer are caught in Russia and Belarus. Consequently, the prices of food and fertilizer have skyrocketed for indefinite period. When fertilizer prices are high, farmers use less fertilizer and then produce less. When they produce less, the supply will remain insufficient. This volatility in major food and commodities and fertilizers brings greater market uncertainty. This situation is further compounded by the huge demands of two key players i.e. India and China whose food demand is on the rise. As a result, intensive competition in the global food market is faced by other countries. Grain scarcity is a big challenge for some vulnerable food importing countries in the Middle East and Africa, since they face problems in meeting the needs of their consumers. Countries like Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia have substantial wheat imports from Ukraine. Food insecurity always causes sociopolitical upheaval in these countries. Governments have to issue food subsidies to avoid unrest. The World Food Programme that buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine had to reduce its rations. This can deprive millions of the people who are beneficiaries of the programme.

On July 22, 2022, Russia and Ukraine signed agreements in Istanbul with UN and Turkey to allow the clearing of way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grains and other agricultural products that have been stuck up in the Black Sea ports for more than five months. The deals also allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer.

World Food Programme observes that around 82% children in Pakistan face the problem of malnutrition. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reports that 16% population of Pakistan is experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity that is 22% in rural and in the urban population.

A number of professionals and experts propose the following measures to cope with the problem of food insecurity:

  1. A globally binding obligation should be enforced by the UNO to respect human rights to food and water during armed conflicts international frictions.
  2. UNO must establish a strategic food reserve to face food crises triggered by armed conflicts or climate-induced disasters.
  3. Globally binding regulations should be introduced to provide sufficient protection to food systems-related infrastructures and activities (agricultural land and water, farms, crops, livestock and fisheries, and so on) as non-military targets, with appropriate sanctions in case of violations.
  4. Appropriate steps to reduce food waste must be adopted.
  5. Production capacity and yield gap must be bridged.
  6. Diversification of food items should be promoted with good substitutes.
  7. Climate change should be arrested with effective strategy.

After above analysis, we can conclude that the global challenge of food insecurity must be tackled with the four food security elements of availability, access, utilization and stability. Quality nutritious food is fundamental to the human existence because it has a wide range of positive impacts like economic growth and job creation, poverty education, trade opportunities, improved health and healthcare, and increased global stability.


  • The writer is a senior banker based in Kazakhstan, with keen interest in Central Asia. He can be reached at: rafeeq_kz@yahoo.com.

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