A global rebound from food panic

In another front against Russia, many nations battle fears of a drop in Ukrainian grain exports.

An ear of wheat is seen in a field near the village of Hrebeni in Ukraine .

In one way, the war in Ukraine is now a world war: Dozens of countries are working to curb a global panic over rising food prices – a panic triggered by Russia’s deliberate actions against Ukrainian farmers and their abundant exports, especially wheat, which many countries have relied on.

“We must do everything to work together to address this food security challenge, which is important for the world,” said Charles Michel, president of the European Council, on a visit to the key Ukrainian port of Odesa on May 9.

Last Friday, for example, Austria welcomed a train carrying 2,000 metric tons of Ukrainian corn, part of a European effort to open a “grain bridge” for Ukrainian exports blocked by the Russian navy from being shipped from Black Sea ports.

Neighboring Bulgaria and Romania have opened their ports for Ukrainian food exports. On a visit to Ukraine last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered help in sending food on the Danube River – another way to circumvent Russian blockades.

After the Feb. 24 invasion, the sudden loss of wheat exports from Ukraine pushed many countries to hoard their supplies, sending panic among global traders. Countries highly dependent on wheat also panicked. For the first time since 1988, Egypt raised the price of bread.

“If we do not get ahead of this thing, we will have not just famine in multiple countries around the world,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program.

To ease fears of food shortages, the Biden administration asked Congress to allocate $500 million for U.S. farmers to boost grain production. The European Commission took similar steps for its farmers. In addition, last month the United States pledged more than $600 million in humanitarian aid for six nations most in need of food: Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen. India is looking at ways to boost its wheat exports to Africa.

In other words, solutions to the war’s impact on food supplies are readily available if fears are lessened. “Take panicky markets with a grain of salt,” wrote Sarah Taber, an independent crop consultant, in Foreign Policy last month. “Markets aren’t oracles. They’re influenced by human beings, often acting on bad information and given to groupthink.”

The war has delivered the largest commodity-price shock since the 1970s, according to the World Bank. Yet enough countries have responded with fear-reducing steps to make a difference. After global food prices spiked in March, they stabilized in April, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization says. The world may be winning a war against food panic.

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