Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine marking the beginning of a devastating humanitarian crisis, the war’s impact has travelled far beyond Ukrainian borders. One of the many consequences of this conflict has taken the form of a global food crisis.
The Russo-Ukrainian war has disturbed global agricultural markets and trade flows, leading to increasing costs and threats to our global food security.
For the UK and EU, this has been somewhat of a wakeup call, changing attitudes towards political and economic priorities, including our food systems.
With food prices increasing by 30% in the last year, the real worry for food security lies in the long-term impacts – if costs are high, availability of fertilizer and feedstock are affected, so those farmers who can plant crops, will be unable to do so. This is accompanied by the existing challenges leaders were already grappling with in the post COVID-19 landscape. We are faced with a perfect storm.
Earlier this month, Mark MacGregor, Senior Adviser at Hume Brophy, chaired a discussion with colleagues Ian Wright, former Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation, and Mella Frewen, former Director General of FoodDrinkEurope, on the future of agri-food in the UK and EU after the invasion of Ukraine. Joined by Vicky Pryce, UK Chief Economic Adviser, the discussion surrounded the impact the war has had on food security, availability, pricing and trade.
Here, we look at the key takeaways:
Is food security the new net zero?
Climate goals are also beginning to be put on the back burner. Across Europe, we are seeing governments withdraw support for renewables, but to what extent can we hold the environment hostage to food production?
Proposals within initiatives such as the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy have begun to bend. Goals to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers for example have been hindered, with some EU member states believing that now is not time to be reducing yields. There is also discussion around enabling the use of set aside land, which was previously preserved for ecological reasons.
However, many argue this is ill advised, and the race to net zero cannot be compromised. As Ian Wright pointed out “The climate isn’t going to stop changing because the Russians attacked Ukraine.” During this crisis, we must find a way to feed ourselves, while not losing sight of our climate targets.
Are there longer-term solutions to ensure future food security?
The world food system must come to terms with the fact this is going to be a long road. The consequences for both the UK and EU will be serious, with an increase in interest rates in the UK and global inflation expected to rise by 8% over the next 2 years. With the upcoming local and by-elections in the UK, voters are unlikely to pick up the slack in terms of price increases – supermarkets and manufacturers will likely carry this burden, meaning price wars are on the horizon.
However, there are solutions in the long, medium, and short term with resounding confidence amongst our panellists that food security can improve.
Alongside the liberalisation of tariffs on imports from Ukraine which are already in place, our own National Food Strategy could bend with the times. With a proper audit of food security in the UK, we can improve on our own yields, with 60% of our food already being produced nationally. On an individual scale, we can also look at our own behaviours, such as diets and purchasing habits, favouring more plant-based foods. As we heard in the Queen’s speech last week, precision agriculture is also regarded as the future of the industry, improving the sustainability, resilience, and productivity of agricultural systems.
In years to come, climate change, disease and conflict will continue to disturb global agricultural systems. Policymakers, individuals and organisations must establish mechanisms to respond to such crises and prepare for immediate and long-term food security, while keeping climate goals in sight.
The effects of the war in Ukraine will be felt long after the conflict has ended. However, following a ceasefire, we can remain confident that the UK and nations across the globe will be there to assist Ukraine in rebuilding its economy with the food industry at the forefront of this recovery.
The full recording of our experts discussion is now available to watch on YouTube. Check it out.