Workers carry sacks of wheat to load on a freight train at Chawa Pail railway station in Khanna, India, on Thursday. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP)
The world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, driven by the compounded effects of COVID-19, climate change and the Russia-Ukraine conflict that are exacerbating already skyrocketing food and energy prices and causing severe hunger, said the head of the United Nations' World Food Programme.
Speaking at a session called Averting a Global Food Crisis at the World Economic Forum in Davos, David Beasley, WFP executive director, warned that the world will likely face a food availability issue in a year's time, which will impact everyone.
"Just when you think it could not get any worse over a year ago... and then the breadbasket of the world (Ukraine) now has the longest bread lines in the world," he said.
"Now, because of this crisis, we are taking the food from the hungry to the starving. It is absolutely a crisis mode. What do you think is going to happen when you take a nation that normally grows enough food to feed 400 million people and you sideline that?"
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has delivered a major shock to the already fragile global food and fertilizer markets and is expected to significantly worsen food and nutrition insecurity, which was already at a very high level. The two countries are top exporters of major grains and vegetable oils.
According to the Global Network Against Food Crises, 50 percent of the global sunflower seed oil market is supplied by Ukraine. And 50 percent of North Africa's and the Middle East's cereal needs are from Ukraine and Russia.
Given their important roles in providing food, particularly wheat, uncertainty around food production and exports could cause greater food instability and hunger.
'No silver bullet'
And there is no silver bullet or easy solution, said Mariam Mohammed Saeed Al Mheiri, minister of climate change and the environment of the United Arab Emirates.
She said everyone needs to work together across the food supply chain, from producers to consumers.
"Because of the conflict, all the humanitarian work that needs to be done, all the focus areas that need to be swayed, so that we get the people that are actually in need of food the access to the food, and that those who want to go into more sustainable methods of farming can get access to finance," she said. "Solving the global food crisis is everyone's business."
Despite having 60 percent of the world's arable land, Africa is a major importer of food, and the conflict in Ukraine threatens to cut off supplies to much of the continent.
Last year, 36 out of 55 countries with food crises depended on Ukrainian and Russian exports for more than 10 percent of their total wheat imports, including 21 countries with major food crises, according to a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises.
Philip Isdor Mpango, vice-president of Tanzania, said to avert a global food crisis, more investment is needed in agriculture, including irrigation and rural roadbuilding, and it should also involve the youthful population of Africa.
"We must strategize so that we have the youth involved in the agriculture value chain throughout," he said. "We have to invest in fertilizers. If we do this, for the very short term, in Africa, we can turn this crisis into an actual opportunity for the continent. But, critically, it is important that we get global partnerships and this is what has changed in the continent recently."
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