September 25, 2023

  1. Tim Lang, professor emeritus of meals coverage1,
  2. Martin McKee, professor of European Public Well being2

  1. 1Centre for Meals Coverage, Metropolis, College of London

  2. 2London Faculty of Hygiene and Tropical Medication

The worldwide meals provide system wants pressing change, argue Tim Lang and Martin McKee

In 2022, weeks after Russia re-invaded Ukraine, we warned of the danger to meals provides in Ukraine and past.1 Since then, the significance of meals on this battle has intensified, with clear classes for the worldwide group dealing with an ever extra unsure world. We draw two essential classes from these occasions.

The primary is that the worldwide group should clarify that it’ll uphold in worldwide regulation, the prohibition of assaults on meals provides.2 The destruction of Mariupol, one in every of Ukraine’s most vital ports, had instant penalties for the nation’s capability to export grain. Whereas Russia would possibly argue that this was secondary to its army purpose to seize territory, there was little doubt {that a} main purpose of minelaying within the Sea of Azov was to disrupt grain exports. This gave Russia management over the gateway to the Black Sea and a diplomatic device that could possibly be utilized in “back-channel” negotiations with the United Nations and Ukraine, brokered by Turkey.3

The Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) signed on 27 July 2022, created a “maritime humanitarian hall” for secure meals passage by means of the mines. Ukraine might earn very important earnings whereas a separate deal lowered sanctions on Russian meals and fertilizer.4 However the actual winners have been those that relied on Europe’s breadbasket. The UN calculates that by July 2023, 32.9 million tonnes (mt) of meals was shipped, half (51.4%) within the type of maize (corn), simply over 1 / 4 (27.1%) as wheat, and the remainder principally sunflower in a single kind or one other.5

The BSGI ought to have lasted for 3 years, however relied on Russian willingness to cooperate. On 17 July 2023, Russia withdrew from the deal, making the lifting of sanctions that blocked its use of the SWIFT system for worldwide funds a situation to rejoin.6

In follow, the Sea of Azov “secure” hall was all the time problematic. Transport corporations have been reluctant to simply accept the inevitable dangers and insurance coverage prices have been excessive. As a consequence, growing quantities of grain have been transported westward, by-passing the Sea of Azov altogether, and getting into the Black Sea by way of the Danube. So now, as if to substantiate that meals provide is being weaponised, Russia has launched assaults on storage and transit services in Odessa and in websites near the Romanian border. On 2 August 2023, Reuters reported that Russia used drones to assault the port of Izmail, a Ukrainian port on the Danube, destroying giant portions of grain.7

Though these assaults are solely one of many many ways in which Russia has breached worldwide regulation,8 the world should ship a transparent message that these concerned will, sometime, be held accountable.

The second lesson is that the worldwide group should revisit the worldwide meals provide system.9 The numerous procurement failures throughout the covid-19 pandemic, with governments struggling to supply important provides, must be a wake-up name. The European Union has up to date its evaluation of strategic dependencies, similar to batteries, semiconductors, and prescribed drugs, however the one point out of meals pertains to chemical compounds utilized in agriculture.10 A latest report by Ernst and Younger describes how corporations working in lots of sectors are growing funding in folks and know-how, together with synthetic intelligence, to extend the resilience and sustainability of provides.11 But, because the UN Meals System Summit+2 (UNFSS+2) heard on the finish of July 2023,12 whereas components of the agri-food trade see the necessity for change, business-as-usual dominates provide and consumption, and politicians are reluctant to mount efficient challenges to its immense energy.13

Meals provide has lengthy had political components. Because the Sixties, the USA has used grain surpluses to pursue overseas coverage pursuits, with its Public Regulation 480 legitimating meals offers as a political assist,14 or what the US official historian euphemistically referred to as “humanitarian assist as diplomacy.”15 Russia’s actions have taken this to a brand new degree. As NATO Secretary Common Jens Stoltenberg argues, Russia is “weaponizing starvation”16 whereas US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has talked of a extra normal “weaponisation of meals.”17 When 55 of the world’s poorest international locations are depending on grain exports from Ukraine (and Russia), insurance policies to ease commerce routes will not be a long run resolution.

The hazards are exacerbated by the numerous different challenges dealing with the world.18 2023 noticed most of the measures of local weather change attain unprecedented ranges, elevating issues that the Earth might hit tipping factors from which it is not going to get better.19 As soon as fertile land is changing into desert and rivers are working dry. Fish are dying in overheated seas20 and excessive climate occasions are devastating harvests, such because the floods in India which have contributed to its choice to ban exports of some types of rice.21 Biodiversity, in impact our world insurance coverage coverage, is being misplaced.22 The world faces a polycrisis affecting the atmosphere, well being, and the political economic system23 that would simply flip into a world disaster.24

A Lancet Fee described how the present world meals system has created a syndemic of weight problems, undernutrition, and local weather change and argues for a holistic effort to vary how we do issues.25 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made this much more pressing.

Table of Contents


  • Competing pursuits: MMK has labored in Russia and Ukraine for 3 a long time and have pals and colleagues in each international locations.

  • Provenance and peer evaluate: not commissioned, not peer reviewed.


  1. United Nations Joint Coordination Centre. Black Sea Grain Initiative 27 July ed. New York: United Nations’ Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre 2022.

  2. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, et al. The State of Meals Safety and Vitamin within the World 2023: Urbanization, agrifood methods transformation and wholesome diets throughout the agricultural–city continuum. Rome: Meals and Agriculture Organsiation, Worldwide Fund for Agricultural Growth, UN Childrens’ Fund, World Meals Programme, and World Well being Organisation, 2023.

  3. International Dangers Report WEF. 2023. Geneva: World Financial Discussion board, 2023.