Thursday, May 23, 2024
 
 

As war in Ukraine disrupts the global food system, how do we feed the world?

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Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the world’s food supply chains had been severely disrupted by the Covid pandemic.

Now the war has derailed Ukraine’s agricultural exports, delivered sanctions against Russia, and dramatically driven up the price of food and fertilizer. Governments from India to Argentina have responded by imposing export bans on key crops. This threatens to inflict food shortages and famine on the world’s poorest people.

In June 2022, the G7 summit concluded with a Statement on Global Food Security which pledged to “spare no effort to increase global food and nutrition security” and “to protect the most vulnerable, whom the food crisis threatens to hit the hardest.”

Forty years ago, Brazil was one of those impoverished countries, facing food shortages and requesting aid from the international community. But in the past four decades, Brazil’s agri-food sector, supported by successive governments and international partners has transformed the country into a major food producer. Between 1980 and 2020, Brazil increased grain production by 406%, while the areas planted grew by under 65%.

Today, Brazil’s agri-food sector exports to 160 countries, and is determined to be part of the solution to the hunger crisis.

HELPING TO FEED THE WORLD

According to a recent study, Brazil’s grains and oilseeds feed approximately 10% of the world’s population. By working alongside major food producers and strategic partners, such as the EU and UK, we can mitigate the effects of this crisis on the world’s food insecure regions.

Brazil is the world’s number one producer of sugarcane – a major source of calories and energy. Brazil alone grows almost 40% of the total global supply.

Brazil is also the number one producer of soybeans, growing approximately 122 million metric tons, or 34% of global production in 2020. It is the third biggest exporter of maize. And over the past three years, Brazil has consistently been one of the top three global exporters of corn.

Concerns have been raised that a shortage of grains in the Middle East and North Africa could spark extreme food shortages, leading to another refugee crisis. The economic think tank Bruegel identified this region as most at risk of famine, from the disruption to Ukrainian and Russian grain supplies. Thankfully, Brazil has strong existing trade links with the area. Even before the war 30% of Brazil’s corn harvest was sent to the region, primarily to Egypt and Iran.

Even though Brazil comes second to the US in terms of beef – and total meat – output, much of that is retained for domestic American consumption. Consequently, Brazil is the number one exporter of beef, and all meat, internationally. In 2020, Brazil accounted for 17% of global beef exports, ahead of Australia (11%), then India and the United States (both on 9%).

Brazil is also the world’s fourth biggest exporter of pork. We are the third largest exporter of chicken meat, responsible for 12% of global production. Next in line, Russia, the fourth largest exporter, produces only 4% of the global supply. In real terms, this means that in 2021 Brazil exported 4.4 million metric tons of chicken meat.

CLIMATE-FRIENDLY INNOVATIONS

As fertilizer prices rise around the globe, Brazil’s Government has launched a national fertilizer plan, aimed at making the country more self-sufficient, with a particular focus on potash (where Belarus is a major producer). The plan aims to reduce Brazil’s reliance on imported fertilizer by more than half.

Part of this goal will be met by accelerating the adoption of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF). This low-cost, climate-friendly technique involves infusing crops with micro-organisms which extract nitrogen from the air, dramatically reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers.

BNF is just one example of Brazilian farmers developing innovative, climate-friendly technologies which allow us to boost food production, while respecting environmental limits. Our agriculture ministry publishes details of many of these technologies on its website and invites other food producers worldwide to partner with them in a mutually beneficial way.

To some in South America, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seem half a world away. But to Brazil’s Agri-food sector, it is clear that these terrible events are disrupting our entire food system.

In times of plenty, Brazilian farmers frequently compete with their British and European counterparts for market share. But during this time of war, crisis and scarcity, we must each do our share to feed the world’s poorest people by improving production in a sustainable way.

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