who in the world is at risk of hunger- Corriere.it

from Michele Farina

The war has exacerbated the crisis: harvests in danger, trade using land routes impossible

War is a matter (also) of calories: agricultural exports from Ukraine provided enough to keep 400 million people alive in the world, from Africa to Asia via the Middle East. Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskiy tells the
Economist
that, before the invasion, Kiev exported 5 million tons of wheat per month. Instead, in April we managed to send about a million of them abroad
.

The grain road interrupted. 98% of Ukrainian cereals (106 million tons in 2021, a historic record), which in peacetime are collected in the 1,200 30-meter-high steel super silos that dot the country, they have to go through the big Odessa terminalwhich normally employs 100,000 people. With the blockade of the port (where 20 million tons of product are stored), an essential source to counter the global crisis has dried up.

We just lacked Putin’s war: already at the beginning of 2022 David Beasley, who leads the World Food Program (WFP), recalled that people on the brink of hunger had almost doubled in the last 5 years (from 108 to 193 million) due to a chain of pre-war factors: the pandemic, energy costs, disasters linked to climate change. This year, however, the forecast of reduced harvests a little everywhere: in the USA (less than 21% in the Great Plains compared to 2022), in China (due to floods), in Europe (due to little rain), in India (according to world producer of wheat after Russia) due to the great heat and drought that led the government of New Delhi in recent days to stop the export of what, for millions and millions of people, remains the basis of daily food: the bread.

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The theft of the silos

26 countries have adopted severe restrictions on the export of agricultural products (cutting the calories of global trade by 15%). We missed the invasion of Ukraine: WFP, which feeds 115 million human beings, bought 50% of its wheat from Ukraine last year. And now? His boss, Beasley, says that with the war in Europe and the blockade of the Black Sea there are 47 million more people at risk of acute food insecurity. With an imbalance that mostly affects the poorest: in advanced countries an average of 20% of income is spent on food, 25% in developing countries; in Sub-Saharan Africa it reaches 40%.

The weapon of sunflowers

According to Moscow, the fault of the Western sanctions. Russian agriculture is not doing badly. If the invaders can forbid the sowing of sunflowers for Ukrainian peasants in the occupied Kherson area, arguing that such tall crops would give shelter to resistance, at least this summer the crops for Russian farmers are guaranteed. And the market is there: the countries that will receive the most wheat from Moscow will be Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Syria. The Ukrainian government accuses the opponents of having requisitioned (stolen) 500,000 tons of grain from the silos of the conquered territories to feed from the Crimea a trade of foodstuffs to friendly regimes (such as that of Damascus). In the medium term, even for Russian agriculture there will be no roses: last year Putin’s country spent 870 million euros on pesticides and 410 million on seeds (mostly from the European Union). In any case, world-wide Russian wheat will not be used to compensate for the non-arrival of Ukrainian wheat.

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The war of calories is also a matter of millimeters. Not the caliber of the howitzers, but the distance between the tracks. Ukrainian railways (heirs of the Soviet system) are narrow gauge like those of their enemies: 1,524 millimeters against 1,435 in the majority of European countries. For this reason it would be even more difficult to move tons of grain by land (to be unloaded and reloaded at the border), bypassing the blockade of ports.. Not to mention that the Russians bomb the bridges where weapons and cereals pass (in the opposite direction).

Over the past decade Ukraine, with its incredibly fertile land, high technology (drones instead of scarecrows) and cheap labor (300 euros a month a wage in the countryside) had tripled agricultural production, becoming a granary for many countries of the world, such as South Africa and even Saudi Arabia, which with its sovereign fund controls 200,000 hectares of crops in the country of sunflowers. Or for China, which has invested heavily with its state cereal giants (such as Cofco, 800,000 tons of exports from Ukraine). Not even the blockade of the wheat stream raises any objections to Putin’s war.

May 22, 2022 (change May 22, 2022 | 10:45 pm)

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