HOPKINTON, New Hampshire — War and violence are the most significant contributors to food insecurity worldwide and the situation in Ukraine may lead to an international hunger crisis. The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine could potentially leave hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians without access to adequate food and water. The ongoing crisis is exacerbating food insecurity in Ukraine, leaving store shelves bare all over the country, especially in the capital city of Kyiv.
Ukraine – An Agricultural Hub
Ukraine is an agricultural powerhouse with 103 million acres of farmland. The country is a key producer and exporter of maize, sunflower oil and barley. Ukraine comprises one of the world’s most fertile soil, which produces 50% of the world’s supply of sunflower oil.
These products supply much of the Middle East and Asia and a halt in food production will worsen food insecurity in those regions.
Worsening Food Insecurity in Ukraine
Access to food is becoming an increasing problem out of fear and preparation for the invasion. However, as Russian troops encircle cities using war of attrition or prolonged warfare to exhaust and starve Ukrainians, widespread food insecurity in Ukraine could become a reality.
In Kharkiv, a major city near the Russian border, NPR reported that “one resident who recently fled told [NPR] she saw long lines, even just for a few potatoes.”
Long lines at supermarkets and pharmacies occur daily during the lulls in air raid sirens as thousands of civilians, including women and children, stock up on supplies to prepare for the potential of Russia cutting them off.
Ukraine is not foreign to starvation and famine and the Russian invasion brings fears of complete food insecurity in Ukraine. Memories of Stalin’s 1932-33 Holodomor, or killing by starvation, which killed more than four million Ukrainians, are being evoked as food insecurity in Ukraine worsens and hungry Russian troops loot Ukrainian businesses.
Farming Crisis From Invasion
Eastern Ukraine comprises a vast majority of the country’s farmland, making it highly susceptible to the Russian invasion. As Russian troops move into those areas the fertile soil will likely become contaminated from bombs, mines and other environmental degradation effects of war. As the war rages on, farmers will either take up arms to defend their country or flee, instead of tending to agricultural land.
The war could also damage and destroy agricultural infrastructure and equipment. This could further prevent farmers from tending to fields after the fighting ceases.
Additionally, much of Ukraine and the EU’s meat and dairy market rely on Ukrainian wheat production, thus, several food supply markets will see detrimental effects as the war continues.
An inability to obtain agricultural products from Ukraine could produce unrest in many other countries, mainly among middle and low-income countries. According to Foreign Policy, in 2020, Ukraine exported “18 million metric tons of wheat,” which is an essential product in diets worldwide. If farmers are not able to reap the next harvest to the same capacity, mass malnutrition will become a reality across international communities.
As Ukrainian spring planting usually occurs in April, if the situation continues at the current rate, it is highly plausible that it will not be possible to plant. Since one of these spring crops is sunflowers, a non-planting season could have medium to long-term global effects.
Numerous humanitarian aid groups and high-profile individuals have stepped up to aid increasing food insecurity in Ukraine. Chef José Andrés and his organization World Central Kitchen provide meals for refugees fleeing the county to Poland, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. The World Central Kitchen supplied between 10,000 and 20,000 meals a day on the front lines at the beginning of the war and intends to increase those numbers moving forward.
Additionally, Cook for Ukraine has raised more than £22,000 in a matter of days and funds will be donated to UNICEF.
With almost the entire globe supporting Ukraine, there is hope that enough supplies will reach troops and civilians so that food insecurity in Ukraine does not become a death sentence and the country can remain resilient.
– Hannah Eliason