DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The crisis in Ukraine and Russia, one of the world’s main sources of grain, fertilizers and energy, presents new challenges in securing food supplies on top of a prolonged pandemic, a UN official said Thursday.
“We weren’t going well even before the pandemic, the hunger was rising slowly and then the pandemic hit,” said Gabriel Ferrero de Loma-Osorio, head of the Committee on World Food Security, a platform within the United Nations for the fight against hunger.
He told The Associated Press that an estimated 161 million more people are suffering from hunger than before the pandemic, totaling 821 million. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a heavy impact on the availability and prices of food, “so unfortunately, we will need to be cautious, but we can see an important impact on food security globally.”
He said countries need to be careful in handling their food security. Bangladesh, for instance, imports almost half its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.
While there have not yet been global disruptions to wheat supplies, prices have surged 55% since a week before the invasion.
Russia and Ukraine combined account for nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley exports. Ukraine also is a major supplier of corn and the global leader in sunflower oil, used in food processing. The war could reduce food supplies just when prices are at their highest levels since 2011.
At a conference organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Bangladesh, officials also discussed how to deal with the impact of climate change, adopt new technologies, and tackle diseases and pests that are affecting crops and livestock in Asia-Pacific, the world’s most populous region.
On Thursday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted her country’s achievement of self-sufficiency in several essential foods including rice and noted that agriculture remains the backbone of the economy of the South Asian nation of 160 million people. The delta nation is one of the worst victims of climate change with millions under threat of losing homes and land because of a rise in sea levels and salinity.
Reversing many years of progress, hunger in Asia-Pacific is on the rise again, said FAO director general Qu Dongyu. Inequalities also are increasing, particularly between rural and urban populations, while too often women and youth are being left behind.
“The pandemic has forced us to reconsider our priorities and approaches and has highlighted the importance of more sustainable and resilient societies,” he said.