Ukraine War Won’t Cause Famine (By Itself)

June 21, 2022
Why a lot of reporting about famine and the war is misleading.

If you regularly consume news about the food industry, you are pounded every day with tales of shortages, impending crises, starvation, etc., attributed to the war in Ukraine. We are reminded over and over that Russia and Ukraine, between the two of them, account for a quarter of global wheat exports, that thousands of tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine, and that all this will have dire consequences for the global food supply.

A much-needed corrective comes in the form of an article in Fortune, “Scary headlines about food shortages are misleading. Here’s why,” by food journalist Thin Lei Win.

“We have enough food to feed everyone,” she says. “Sure, there are concerns over impacts from erratic weather and fallout from this tragic war in Ukraine, but we still have sufficient supplies.”

The biggest misperception is what is meant by ”global wheat exports.” A lot of people see that phrase and think it means the total global wheat supply. The reality is that wheat, while a fungible, globally traded commodity, mostly gets consumed within the countries that produce it; traded wheat is only a small portion of the total. According to a food scientist Win quotes, the quantity of wheat at stake in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is 25% of the total traded – but is less than 1% of the total raised and consumed.

Win also makes the excellent, and underappreciated, point that throughout history, most famines were not caused by a lack of food; the problems were with access and affordability. Those problems are going to increase, Win warns, unless we start taking seriously problems like climate change and the inefficiency of conventional meat raising.

Please, read the whole thing. It’s a common-sense corrective to the common wisdom on the issue.

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