Why 50 countries risk famine with war in Ukraine, explained by Maurizio Martina (FAO)

“We estimate that about fifty countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least 30% of their grain supply are at risk,” explained Maurizio Martina, deputy director general of FAO, in an interview with Fanpage.it. The war is having and will have dramatic repercussions on the market and especially on the countries linked to Russia and Ukraine as regards the supplies of “wheat, corn, barley, seeds, sunflower oil”, but also of “fertilizers”.

Interview with Maurizio Martina

Deputy Director General of FAO

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Wheat, corn, fertilizers, energy. The war risks undermining the entire global agri-food market, but above all of having a devastating impact on the countries that are most dependent on products arriving from Russia and Ukraine. He does not hide his concern Maurizio Martinaformer minister, deputy and secretary of the Democratic Party who today holds the position of deputy director general of FAO – the food and agriculture organization of the United Nations – interviewed by Fanpage.it.

Maurizio Martina, FAO Deputy Director General

Maurizio Martina, FAO Deputy Director General

What are the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the market?

Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, Ukraine is in fifth place. We are talking about two large countries that have historically always supplied other primary agricultural goods: wheat, corn, barley, seeds, sunflower oil. This, among other things, is crossed by the fact that Russia is also a major player in energy, which falls on agriculture because the energy component is very important to make fertilizers. The intersection of these dynamics creates very significant repercussions on food safety. We estimate that some fifty countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least 30% of their grain supply are at risk.

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Which countries are we talking about?

We are talking about countries of North Africa, the Middle East, Asia. Like Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iran, which are the main world importers of wheat. They buy over 60% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Or even countries like Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, which are also heavily dependent on Russia and Ukraine.

In short, the situation is very worrying …

Yes, the blockade of ports in the Black Sea has interrupted supplies and the situation in Ukraine can only cause concern from an agricultural point of view. All the sowing activity of these weeks and the consequent harvest in June is called into question by the dramatic situation we are experiencing. Remember that wheat is a staple food for more than a third of the world population. A drastic reduction in exports – on the global market – impacts a large slice of the population, which is the same already in difficulty from the point of view of food security.

We are talking about countries where the shortage of bread, already in the past, was the basis of the revolts …

The memory, especially on the North African front, of conflicts, riots, the effects of a food famine and a shortage of primary agricultural goods is still very much alive. In some contexts, a drastic reduction of these primary goods can quickly lead to a very difficult socio-economic condition. We all remember what happened during the last food crisis of 2007/2008. There is great concern.

How are Europe and Italy involved?

The effects also on the European front are immediate. Just think that 50% of the fertilizers used in Europe comes from Russia. The increase in energy prices had already had very strong repercussions on the sector before the conflict, today we are not talking about it. If we then add to this the fact that we also stock up on agricultural goods from Ukraine and Russia, the picture is certainly worrying, as Minister Patuanelli also underlined in these hours. If we talk to the Italian sector associations, with the agri-food companies in particular of the supply chains that work with wheat and cereals, the concern is enormous, because the intersection of these two dynamics puts us in difficulty too. The situation is even worse when one thinks of Hungary’s blocking of exports.

What can be done to get out of this situation?

We must avoid that there are only answers at the national level. It is essential to keep markets open as much as possible, to circulate at least primary agricultural goods because any new restrictions would further aggravate the situation. When panic on the market sets in and there is the push to close, the immediate effects can also be held in individual situations, but in the medium term the situation worsens further. Therefore it is very important that the paths of world trade, at least of primary agricultural goods, are kept open.

What’s the worst case scenario?

We would have what we are talking about in these days, and that is the serious risks of food safety in so many already fragile realities. We cannot allow it. Even during the first phase of the Covid pandemic there was a great difficulty, but then the contraction quickly absorbed itself. The effects of 2007-2008, on the other hand, were extremely severe. This is why we must keep the trade networks open, work to diversify supplies more, especially those who are too tied to a few countries, because otherwise they are more vulnerable. And then we must immediately implement initiatives, social safety nets to protect the people most in difficulty.

How much is being done about this already?

The work already done in Ukraine today by international organizations is crucial. Protectionist reactions aimed only at the single country must be avoided and the mechanisms of open market transparency increasingly pushed. This is a fundamental key above all because the most exposed risk being the developing countries, those realities that are already very delicate.

There is also the question of the price increase, which has actually been going on for some time. What’s the perspective?

For months, our indices had been showing the increase in all primary agricultural goods. This process has been going on for more than a year and is the result of the energy crisis that began well before the conflict in Ukraine broke out. Our scenarios a few weeks ago – before the war began – indicated a stabilization of the prices of some agricultural commodities in the medium term, but this analysis has changed completely today. There is great uncertainty and no one is yet able to draw a projection, because it all depends on what will happen in the next few days.

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About Alex Marcell

He likes dogs, pizza and popcorn. Already a fanboy of Nintendo and Sony, but today throws anything. He has collaborated on sites and magazines such as GameBlast, Nintendo World, Hero and Portal Pop, but today is dedicated exclusively to Spark Chronicles.

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