How America Can Feed the World

To Prevent a Global Food Crisis, Expand the Lend-Lease Program

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already killed tens of thousands, displaced millions, and thrown global financial markets into chaos. But without serious international action, Moscow’s war will lead to another deepening crisis: worldwide hunger. Both Russia and Ukraine are major producers and exporters of grain and other agricultural goods. The conflict has thoroughly disrupted this trade, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Russia has blockaded the Black Sea ports from which Ukraine exports nearly all of its grain. Combined with the unwillingness of maritime insurers to protect cargoes moving through the war zone, the conflict will reduce Ukrainian and Russian wheat and corn exports moving through the Bosporus to a trickle. International sanctions on Russia have restricted its grain exports and interfered with its capacity to finance these cargoes, limiting its ability to raise scarce foreign exchange and costing it foreign buyers. The war and the blockades have also led to a surge in commodity prices. Wheat prices rose from $7.79 per bushel at the end of 2021 to $12.83 per bushel in mid-May of 2022, an increase of 64 percent. The United Nations reported an overall year-on-year global food price increase from March 2021 to March 2022 of over 30 percent. Some countries, notably China and India, have reacted to these price hikes by hoarding food and imposing export controls, further inflaming food price instability.

Ukraine and Russia account for at least a quarter of global wheat exports and nearly 60 percent of sunflower oil exports, but the crisis is wider and deeper than the shortfalls in these commodities. Global food and energy prices were already rising before the Russian invasion, as a combination of natural and manmade disasters and pandemic-related supply chain disruptions created food insecurity hot spots in more than 20 countries, according to the United Nations. From January 2020 to early 2022, the Consumer Price Index for food increased in the United States by nearly 15 percent and in Germany by 14 percent, but it rose even more sharply in more vulnerable countries: in Egypt by more than 21 percent and in Lebanon by an astounding 402 percent in 2020, 438 percent in 2021, and an annual rate of 374 percent in the first four months of 2022. The knock-on effects of the Russian invasion now threaten to make basic food staples inaccessible to many people, particularly in the global South.

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