Is a global food crisis the new normal?

by Ella

Global Food Crisis: A New Paradigm?

The intersection of climate change, geopolitical tensions, and export restrictions is raising pressing questions about the sustainability of the world’s food supply. As climate-induced yield losses amplify existing food shortages and price surges stemming from conflicts such as the Ukraine war, analysts examine whether this tumultuous landscape could be the future norm. However, experts suggest that there’s a viable pathway forward.


In July, India’s suspension of non-basmati white rice exports to stabilize domestic prices and ensure local availability stirred concerns worldwide. The world’s largest rice exporter attributed the move to “high international prices due to geo-political scenario[s], El Nino sentiments, and extreme climatic conditions in other rice-producing countries.” This ban impacted a quarter of India’s rice exports.


This development follows Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain agreement due to ongoing hostilities in Ukraine, intensifying concerns over broader food security.


Yet, deeper inquiries emerge. Unusual weather patterns, geopolitical tensions, and climate-linked yield reductions are converging with growing frequency, fuelling price spikes and escalating prospects of hunger.


For instance, India’s wheat production was severely affected by a scorching heatwave in 2022, leading to an export ban that endures to this day, and 2023 marks the second consecutive year of restrictions on rice exports.

Argentina, a leading soy and corn producer, grapples with its most severe drought in six decades, resulting in substantial yield reductions.

Indonesia, the largest palm oil exporter globally, briefly halted its exports last year due to rising prices, triggering a worldwide race for edible oils, especially with the disruption of sunflower oil supplies from Ukraine.

Brazil, a significant soy oil producer, contends with droughts in recent years, while Canada registered its lowest canola oil yield in 14 years in 2021.

Does this signal an enduring food crisis as the new normal? And is there a feasible course of action?

In essence, the confluence of extreme weather events, export constraints, and geopolitical fractures could indeed perpetually jeopardize global food security. Yet, experts assert that a solution exists: facilitating free trade and cultivating resilient crop varieties capable of withstanding climate fluctuations can help mitigate potential crises.

Proliferating Export Restrictions
Rice, a dietary staple for over half the world’s population, witnesses an annual consumption of more than 500 million metric tonnes. India, as the source of 40% of global rice exports, is a significant player, alongside Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the United States.

The banned rice variety—non-parboiled, non-basmati—accounted for approximately 10% of the global market in the past two years, according to Shirley Mustafa, a rice market analyst at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This rice primarily targets specific regions such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Lately, African nations such as Cameroon, Madagascar, and Côte d’Ivoire have emerged as prominent purchasers.

However, India has also imposed a 20% export tax on parboiled rice, effectively limiting all non-basmati rice, which constitutes 80% of the country’s total rice exports.

Such export constraints destabilize markets, leading to global price hikes, disproportionately impacting vulnerable nations that increase rice purchases in anticipation of supply shortages.

To comprehend the significance of rice demand, consider India’s actions last year. Despite implementing a tariff in September 2022 to discourage international purchases of non-basmati white rice and ensure domestic supply, exports of this variety surged by 25% between September and March compared to the previous year.

India’s comprehensive rice export ban has subsequently driven global prices even higher. In July, rice prices reached their highest level since September 2011, according to the FAO’s All Rice Price Index.

Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, noted that the price of Thai white rice, considered the benchmark, surged by approximately 14% following India’s announcement.

However, India’s export controls are not an isolated case. As of July 2023, the World Bank reported that 20 countries had imposed export restrictions on major food commodities. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Cameroon prohibited the export of wheat, rice, and vegetable oil respectively, while Russia and Uganda imposed export taxes on sunflower oil, wheat, barley, maize, and rice.

The surge in trade-restricting policies has been particularly conspicuous since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.



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