Opinion | When Food is Weaponised, the Whole World Loses

Several high-level global officials have criticised Russia for its role in the worsening international food crisis sparked by its invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters whose ports remain blocked by Russian forces

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said ​​the war has contributed to global hunger reaching a “new high.” Ukrainian wheat feeds millions globally - Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan receive much of their wheat from Ukraine, while about half of the World Food Programme’s comes from the country.

Russia’s war has compounded or accelerated pre-existing food deficits and inflationary trends arising from a host of linked factors: the negative economic impact of the pandemic; resulting supply-chain, employment, and transport problems; extreme weather and climate-crisis-related falls in output; spiralling energy costs; and numerous other ongoing conflicts worldwide.

The World Food Programme estimates about 49 million people face emergency levels of hunger.

Beyond the conflict in Ukraine, ongoing affects of the COVID pandemic are still taking a toll and it is no longer controversial to assert that destroyed crops, lost livelihoods, and impoverished communities – key micro-ingredients of mass hunger emergencies – are intimately connected to, and affected by, climate change and extreme weather events.

It is, however, still hard to find concerted, effective international action or public pressure to shift the dynamic.

Times of great social, economic, and political upheaval can also be times of great innovation and can trigger existential shifts in the way we, as global citizens, do things. Kiwi growers, farmers, producers, and distributors need to take this moment to critically think about what New Zealand can contribute to this evolution.

From changes to growing regions and an uptick in local sourcing to transitioning to sustainable packaging and practices, now is a crucial time for all involved in the food supply chain to rethink who and what we rely on to feed the world.