Russian invasion poses ‘clear, growing threat’ to food security in Ukraine: FAO

The Russia-Ukraine war has created significant hurdles in the logistics for aid groups and disrupted food supply chains in Ukraine, an expert from the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said.

“The war has already created significant problems in the logistics and on the food supply chains within Ukraine. Securing food supply chains and safeguarding household-level production of nutritious foods such as vegetables and livestock will be critical to averting a food crisis,” said Rodrigue Vinet, Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Officer, Designated Responsible Official (DRO) of the FAO Scale-Up Activation in Ukraine.

Coming months ‘critical’ for food security in Ukraine

“In Ukraine, the escalating war poses a clear and growing threat to food security and the agricultural-based livelihoods of smallholders, although field assessments will be necessary to get firm data on damage, food security outcomes, and needs,” he said. “The coming months are critical.”

Farmers in Ukraine planted the winter wheat between September and October 2021, Vinet explained, which will be harvested in July and August this year.

“In coming weeks, farmers would typically be preparing lands for vegetable production, with sowing expected from mid-March through mid-May and harvesting between July and September,” Vinet told Al Arabiya English.

Land preparation and sowing for grains including Spring barley, maize and sunflower also occur between March and May, with harvests expected in July and August for spring barley and September and October for maize and sunflower.

“We are deeply concerned about the potential for the war to impact planting and harvesting,” he said. “Especially if farmers cannot access inputs and animal feed.”

FAO scales up food aid efforts amid Russian invasion

The FAO has a team of 81 people currently working in Ukraine, and it is now being “pivoted to scale up” its humanitarian response, Vinet said.

The UN agency launched a Rapid Response Plan for Ukraine on March 7 to cover the period of March to May 2022, seeking an immediate $50 million to rapidly assist 240,000 vulnerable rural people affected by the war. This represents only the most urgent needs out of the total amount needed to support food security and livelihood clusters under the UN flash appeal.

“In terms of food security and agricultural livelihoods, FAO, [the UN’s World Food Program] WFP and partners have requested $183.5 million to provide food aid and agricultural livelihoods assistance to 1.5 million people,” he added.

The assistance provided by the FAO in Ukraine includes food aid, emergency agricultural support packages for 100,000 households (accounting for up to 300,000 people) including vegetable garden seeds and tools as well as veterinary care to farm animals, and multi-purpose financial aid for around 1.8 million people.

The organization has said that it continues to work closely with the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food to identify emerging needs and priority actions “to safeguard rural livelihoods and is closely monitoring the situation on the ground.”

FAO and its partners have also been preparing for a rapid food security assessment to better estimate the country’s agricultural and food security needs, “as conditions permit.”

Global food crisis looms

Before the Russian invasion, the FAO had a field presence across the entirety of Ukraine to delivery various kinds of support, including cash-based assistance, to rural communities.

However, food insecurity issues were present on a global level before the Ukraine war due to the effects brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and an increase in global food prices.

“Even before the expansion of hostilities in Ukraine, global levels of acute food insecurity had reached historic levels in 2021, with localized famine-like conditions experienced in four countries last year, due to various, situation-specific factors that were compounded by the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a steady rise in international food commodity prices,” said Vinet.

He added that while the Russia-Ukraine war has piqued the world’s interest over the past few weeks, people must not forget that other countries have also been grappling with their own food security issues such as acute hunger.

“As we respond in Ukraine, we must also redouble our efforts to help these [other] communities and food crises affected countries produce more food locally, right where it is needed most, to mitigate the impacts of any import reductions and/or rising food prices.”

The war in Ukraine has also affected food supply chains in many other countries, according to a Reuters report on Monday, as fertilizer prices continue to soar. This poses some serious implications for famers as they can no longer afford soil nutrients.

Last Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that food prices could rise globally due to the increase in fertilizer prices if the West created problems for Russia’s export of fertilizers, which account for 13 percent of world output.

Putin’s statement comes as the West continues to sanction Russian businessmen such as Russian fertilizer and coal billionaire Andrei Melnichenko.

The European Union sanctions included freezing assets of several wealthy Russians and cutting off the Russian corporate sector from the global economy in an effort to force Putin to change course.

Russia is a major producer of potash, phosphate and nitrogen containing fertilizers – major crop and soil nutrients. EuroChem, which produces nitrogen, phosphates and potash, told Reuters that it is one of the world’s top five fertilizer companies.

Russia’s trade and industry ministry told the country’s fertilizer producers to temporarily halt exports earlier this month, causing further distress to an already disrupted global food supply chain.

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