Ukraine Update: Biden To Hold Call With Allies, Global Food Supply Threatened, And Children Remain Undernourished

UKRAINE (April 19, 2022)— US President Joe Biden will hold a call with his allies on Tuesday to discuss the war, including plans to further isolate Russia, the White House said.

“The president will convene a secure video call with allies and partners to discuss our continued support for Ukraine and efforts to hold Russia accountable as part of our close coordination,” it said in a statement.

The White House said earlier on Monday that there were “no plans” for Biden to travel to Kyiv. A high-ranking official, like the US secretary of state, may be sent instead.

What’s Happening In Ukraine?

  1. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia’s large-scale offensive in the eastern Donbas region is underway
  2. The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council had earlier said Moscow tried to break through defenses in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions
  3. Ukrainian officials say Russian bombardment of several cities across the country has killed at least 17 people
  4. Seven people died when multiple missiles hit the western city of Lviv, which had largely escaped attack until now
  5. The UN is reporting that more than 4.9 million Ukrainians have now fled the country as a result of the war
  6. Ukraine returns a questionnaire to the European Union as it bids to gain candidate status to join the bloc

Global Food Supply Threatened

Fertilizer is a key component to farming, but now farmers are having to pay more for the product because of the war overseas.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is threatening the global food supply as the war disrupts two of the world’s major wheat exporters. Ukraine and Russia account for about a third of global annual wheat sales.

Last week, Indian PM Narendra Modi told US President Joe Biden that India was ready to ship food to the rest of the world following supply shocks and rising prices due to the war.

India is the second biggest producer of rice and wheat in the world. As of early April, it had 74 million tonnes of the two staples in stock. And it’s also one of the cheapest global suppliers of the cereals.

But it’s not a sure thing that India can come to the world’s rescue. There are concerns over an under-performing harvest this year and a shortage of fertilizers.

Can India Fill The Food Supply Gap?

Last week, Indian PM Narendra Modi told US President Joe Biden that India was ready to ship food to the rest of the world following supply shocks and rising prices due to the war in Ukraine.

Mr Modi said India had “enough food” for its 1.4 billion people, and it was “ready to supply food stocks to the world from tomorrow” if the World Trade Organization (WTO) allowed.

Commodity prices were already at a 10-year high before the war in Ukraine because of global harvest issues. They have leapt after the war and are already at their highest since 1990, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO) food-price index.

 Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s major wheat exporters and account for about a third of global annual wheat sales. The two countries also account for 55% of the global annual sunflower oil exports, and 17% of exports of maize and barley. Together, they were expected to export 14 million tonnes of wheat and over 16 million tones of maize this year, according to UNFAO.

“The supply disruptions and threat of embargo facing Russia means that these exports have to be taken out of the equation. India could step in to export more, especially when it has enough stocks of wheat,” says Upali Galketi Aratchilage, a Rome-based economist at UNFAO.

India is the second biggest producer of rice and wheat in the world. As of early April, it had 74 million tones of the two staples in stock. Of this, 21 million tones have been kept for its strategic reserve and the Public Distribution System (PDS), which gives more than 700 million poor people access to cheap food.

India is also one of the cheapest global suppliers of wheat and rice: it is already exporting rice to nearly 150 countries and wheat to 68. It exported some 7 million tonnes of wheat in 2020-2021. Traders, reacting to rising demand in the international market, have already entered contracts for exports of more than 3 million tonnes of wheat during April to July, according to officials. Farm exports exceeded a record $50bn in 2021-22.

India has the capacity to export 22 million tonnes of rice and 16 million tonnes of wheat in this fiscal year, according to Ashok Gulati, a professor of agriculture at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. “If the WTO allows government stocks to be exported, it can be even higher. This will help cool the global prices and reduce the burden of importing countries around the world,” he says.

There are some reservations though. “We have enough stocks at the moment. But there are some concerns, and we should not become gung-ho about feeding the world,” says Harish Damodaran, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

Galloping  Food Prices- Food Inflation

Lastly, there is the overriding concern over galloping food prices at home – food inflation hit a 16-month-high of 7.68% in March. This has been mainly driven by price rises of edible oils, vegetables, cereals, milk, meat and fish. India’s central bank has warned about “elevated global price pressures in key food items” leading to to “high uncertainty” over inflation.

The Russian invasion is likely to have “serious consequences” for global food security, according to IFPRI, a think tank. The UNFAO estimates that a prolonged disruption to exports of wheat, fertiliser and other commodities from Russia and Ukraine could push up the number of undernourished people in the world from eight to 13 million.

Children Remain Undernourished In India

By the government’s own admission, more than three million children remain undernourished in India despite bountiful crops and ample food stocks. (Prime Minister Modi’s native state, Gujarat, has the third highest number of such children.) “You cannot be cavalier about food security. You cannot play around with the food earmarked for the subsidised food system,” says Mr Damodaran.

If there is one thing India’s politicians know it is that food – or the lack of it – determines their fate: state and federal governments have tumbled in the past because of soaring onion prices.

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Source: BBC and Reuters contributed to the article.

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