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The Myth of Global Grain Shortages

Contrary to popular belief, the war in Ukraine has not led to a global shortage of wheat. While global hunger has surged in recent years, the way to address the current food crisis is by focusing on its real causes: financial speculation and corporate profiteering.

NEW DELHI – In recent years, soaring food prices and the growing frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events have prompted warnings of a looming grain shortage, potentially spelling disaster for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. Although climate change poses the greatest medium to long-term threat to global food security, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is frequently cited as the immediate cause of the current hunger crisis. But this is a red herring.

To be sure, the war has disrupted wheat exports from both Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s leading producers, throwing critical trade relationships into disarray. Given that Ukraine and Russia previously accounted for more than a quarter of global wheat exports, policymakers and commentators attributed the surge in prices in early 2022 largely to supply shortages caused by the conflict.

But while the global wheat price index rose by around 23% in the months following Russia’s invasion, prices began to drop in June 2022. By December, they had returned to pre-war levels. Even when acknowledged, this trend was attributed to the success of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), a United Nations-backed agreement that lifted the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s grain exports. Conversely, Russia’s recent decision to pull out of the deal has raised concerns about its potential effects on the global grain trade.