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A Violent World Is a Hungrier World

It is no coincidence that both hunger and violent conflict are rising at an alarming rate. Owing to the increasingly interconnected and homogenized nature of food systems, the disruptive effects of war, climate change, and other man-made problems are fueling each other in a dangerous self-perpetuating cycle.

STOCKHOLM – After decades of progress, world hunger is rising again – and fast. In 2021, around 30% of the world’s population – more than 2.3 billion people – could not be sure of having enough food year-round, and 12% faced severe food insecurity, meaning they had run out of food and gone for days without eating. The number of people in this latter category has nearly doubled since 2014, and most of the increase has happened since 2019. In 2021, some 45 million people were at risk of famine – having no food at all. And, of course, behind these headline figures are yawning geographic disparities: Over 20% of Africa’s population faces moderate or severe food insecurity, compared to only 2.5% in North America and Europe.

A major factor driving the resurgence of hunger is the alarming rise in violent conflict over the past few years. Russia’s war against Ukraine starkly illustrates how conflict can affect food systems, even those thousands of miles away from the artillery fire. Within three months of the invasion last year, Ukraine’s agricultural sector (a mainstay of its economy) had already suffered between $2.2 billion and $6.4 billion of damage. Landmines and unexploded ordnance now litter its fields; farm workers have joined the war effort or been displaced; and the basic lack of security has made production far more difficult. As a result, Ukraine’s grain production plummeted by 40% in 2022.

Worse, because Ukraine is one of the biggest suppliers of grain to the world market, the war has increased food insecurity globally. Part of the problem is that food systems have become increasingly homogenized. Three crops – wheat, maize, and rice – account for nearly half of all food calories traded worldwide, and their production has become concentrated in a handful of so-called breadbasket regions, one of which comprises Ukraine and Russia. In 2021, these two countries accounted for around 12% of internationally traded food calories and ranked among the top three exporters of wheat and maize. Before 2022, Russia was also a leading exporter of agricultural fertilizers.

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