Pre Council of Europe: Food Shortages

Pre Council of Europe: Food Shortages

I will pick up on a couple of the points raised by Deputy Carthy, but will focus on them through a slightly different lens. I looked through the European Council agenda, which states that it “will continue its discussion on how to build a more robust economic base … notably by reducing strategic dependencies in sensitive areas like critical raw materials, semi-conductors, health, digital and food”. The food security piece jumped out at me. We are dealing with the immediate crises, which are physical security, mass migration and energy security. These are self-evident. We cannot help but deal with them as they are right in our faces at present, but the outworkings of this crisis will take months to play out. It is appropriate that the Minister of State is receiving these because some of the worst effects will play out beyond the borders of Europe.

We know that Russia and Ukraine account for 30% of the world’s wheat exports, 17% of its corn exports and 32% of its barley exports. Ukraine alone provides the wheat supply for more than half of the world food programmes. Where does this harvest go? We know that Ukraine is the leading supplier of wheat to Tunisia, Libya and Syria. There is a terrible irony that so many of the countries in the fertile crescent are affected in this way. Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer. It relies on Russia and Ukraine for more than 80% of the wheat purchased on international markets. Lebanon, which has seen its currency devalued significantly over the past couple of months, relies on Ukraine for 70% of its wheat imports. As the price of world commodities shoots through the roof, the value of Lebanon’s currency drops through the floor creating a perfect storm for it.

The global nature of world commodity prices means that the impact will not stop there. The war in Ukraine will compound the expected shortages caused by adverse weather conditions in China and will drive grain prices up worldwide. Those who can afford it least will suffer the most, as it ever was. Already, 811 million people go to bed hungry every night and a total of 44 million people in 38 countries are teetering on the edge of famine. How much worse will this unjustified and unjustifiable war make this? The UN Secretary General António Guterres summed this up by saying, “This war goes far beyond Ukraine” and “a sword of Damocles hangs over the global economy”, especially in the developing world.

This has to be a moment when we take stock and look at the structures underpinning our global and globalised economies. We are beginning to do that in respect of our energy systems and we are having to do it for our agriculture. It has thrown into sharp relief, and Deputy Carthy raised some of these points, how reliant we are on imports of fodder and fertiliser. I worry that we might be looking at our fourth fodder crisis in somewhat less than a decade this coming winter. All of this is against the backdrop of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which has barely been mentioned due to everything else that has happened in the world. It states: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

I acknowledge all that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, is doing around a targeted intervention package in the tillage sector and multispecies sward initiatives, in addition to tillage incentives and approaching crop supports that will, hopefully, see many more farmers grow additional plant crops, such as barley, oats, wheat, beans and peas, but in a European context we will need to see serious measures if we are to avert catastrophic famine across the developing world in the coming months. I hope the Minister of State will bring that message to Europe. In doing so, we will need to make sure that every step we take moves us in the right direction for agriculture, biodiversity, wildlife restoration and our agriculture systems in the context of that all-encompassing climate crisis we must face up to.