Getreide-Knappheit weltweit Millionen Menschen droht Hunger – nicht nur wegen des Krieges

Millionen Menschen sind in diesem Jahr akut von Hunger bedroht. Die Weizenpreise explodieren. Der Krieg in der Ukraine ist nur einer von drei Faktoren, die dafür sorgen, dass die Versorgung mit Lebensmitteln weltweit ins Wanken gerät.
Ein Orignaltext aus dem "Economist"
Zerstörter Traktor in der Ukraine: Die Kornkammer Europas wird von russischen Angreifern bombardiert. Hinzu kommen Exportkontrollen und Wetterextreme.

Zerstörter Traktor in der Ukraine: Die Kornkammer Europas wird von russischen Angreifern bombardiert. Hinzu kommen Exportkontrollen und Wetterextreme.

Foto: John Moore / Getty Images

The food system in crisis

A world grain shortage puts tens of millions at risk

War, extreme weather and export controls are all contributing

In 2001 olena nazarenko’s father started farming in Lukashivka, a small village about 100km north of Kyiv, with three cows and a horse called Rosa (”Dew” in Ukrainian). In 2020 Mrs Nazarenko and her husband Andriy inherited the 400-hectare (1,000-acre) farm, now named Rosa after that founding horse. Early this year they took out a substantial loan to cover fertiliser for the coming spring-wheat crop.

On March 9th, well before they had planted any, Russian troops occupied the village and the couple fled. On March 31st, when the invaders had turned tail, they returned. It was a harsh homecoming. The main farm building was shelled out. Three tractors had been vandalised and their diesel drained. Of their 117 cows, 42 were dead and the rest were roaming fields littered with debris, mines, mortar shells, unexploded cluster bombs and burnt-out trucks. Fifty tonnes of wheat, sunflower seed and rye had been destroyed, costing them tens of thousands of dollars. "We have no money left,” says Mrs Nazarenko. "We have nothing to pay salaries and are struggling to pay interest on the loan.”

Lukashivka and the villages around it have seen thousands of tonnes of grain destroyed or left to rot; much the same is true throughout the country’s war zones. Russian forces have targeted grain elevators and fertiliser plants, leaving the infrastructure in pieces. The share of last year’s grain harvest still in the country—about 25m tonnes of grain, a lot of it maize (corn)—is stuck there, because Odessa’s ports, through which 98% of the grain exports normally pass, are blockaded. Getting the grain to alternative ports in Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltics is hard. "Before the war Ukraine exported about 5m tonnes of grain a month,” says Mykola Solskiy, the minister for agriculture. "Last month we managed to get 1.1m tonnes out.”

Vikas Kumar Singh, a farmer in Dharauli, a village in Uttar Pradesh about 700km south-east of Delhi, has no unexploded ordnance to worry about. But his March, too, was troubled. "It got too hot too early,” he explains, picking up a handful of recently harvested wheat from a pile in his shed with a dejected look on his face. "See, the grains are thinner than they’re supposed to be.” After being battered by severe winds and hail in February, the Chandauli district in which Dharauli sits suffered intense and unseasonable heat, shrivelling the ears of wheat when they should have been burgeoning. The same happened across most of the country. "Things are much worse in Maharashtra,” says Awadh Bihari Singh, who farms nearby.

Mr Vikas Singh reckons that his yield is down by about a quarter compared with last year’s. The district as a whole has harvested around a fifth less wheat than in a normal year, reckons Mr Awadh Singh. Before the heatwave, when a bumper harvest had seemed on the cards, the government had looked forward to the rupee being strengthened by grain exports. When expectations of the harvest’s size tumbled it flip-flopped. Accelerating exports encouraged by high prices abroad raised worries of a shortage at home.

On May 13th, the Indian government imposed an export ban on wheat, though it says it will make exceptions for specific countries in need; on May 15th a 500,000-tonne deal with Egypt was reported. There are currently 26 countries implementing severe restrictions on food exports. In most cases they are outright bans. The various measures cover 15% of the calories traded worldwide.

It takes a world to feed a world, and the way the world does it is through trade. By some estimates four-fifths of the global population live in countries which are net importers of food. More than 20% of the world’s calories, and more than 18% of its grain, crosses at least one border on the journey from plough to plate.

At the beginning of 2022 the world-spanning system which makes this possible was already in a ropey state. The number of people with access to food so poor that their lives or livelihoods were at immediate risk had risen from 108m to 193m over the past five years, according to the un’s World Food Programme (WFP). A lot of that near-doubling of "acute food insecurity” was due to the covid-19 pandemic, which reduced incomes and disrupted both farm work and supply chains; a good bit more was down to rising prices of energy and shipping as the effects of the pandemic wore off. Things were made worse by swine flu in China and a series of bad harvests in exporting countries, some of which were due to La Niña conditions that began in the middle of 2020. La Niña is a recurrent pattern of currents and wind patterns in and over the equatorial Pacific which has worldwide effects, just as its also-troublesome counterpart El Niño does.

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