A Crisis In Food Systems

September 21, 2022
© UNOCHA/Levent Kulu

The Ukraine conflict brings a crisis in food systems that is only now being alleviated by the UN-backed Black Sea Grain Initiative. We must not only recover from this crisis but also put solutions in place to prevent the next crisis. The UNDP Food and Agricultural Commodity Systems team is putting its weight behind this medium and long term thinking.  

Besides the devastating damage to the Ukranian people, the attack on Ukraine triggered a global food crisis when 20 million tons of grain were blockaded in the country.  In July, representatives from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey agreed with UN backing on a Joint Coordination Centre to facilitate grain exports.  

Although the resumption of grain shipments is a key stage in the recovery of global food systems, the shocks of the last three years have exposed many weaknesses. UNDP’s Food and Agricultural Commodity Systems Practice (FACS) aims to build food and agricultural commodity systems that are resilient, equitable and sustainable. In alignment with the recommendations of the UN Global Crisis Response Group, the system now needs to move from recovery to resilience. 

Resilience was the first crack to show – within days of the conflict starting, the World Food Programme’s Food Price Index had reached record levels following restrictions in supply. The world has concentrated its food production in just 6 breadbaskets, and the chance of multiple failures is increasing as the effects of climate change multiply with the continued threat of COVID and further conflicts. 

Equity was exposed when food and commodity prices rocketed, leading to fears of social unrest. India – the world’s second largest producer – banned wheat exports and Indonesia – the largest palm oil producer – banned exports for a period. 

 Sustainability was highlighted as the effects of the conflict combined with multiple heatwaves harming harvests to challenge the sustainable development focus of agriculture in the run up to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

Now the work has started to plan the longer term response to the crisis, in the recognition that we now live in the Age of Crisis, with one following another without a break. FACS has engaged the former Minister of Production in Peru, Jose Luis Chicoma, to develop the transformative approach we need. Currently he is consulting within UNDP, with other UN Agencies and external stakeholders to determine the best contribution that UNDP can make to resilient, equitable and sustainable food systems. He is only part way through his work, but commented: 

“UNDP’s whole-of-government approach, its expertise in working inter-ministerially, is an amazing opportunity to promote the systemic perspective that we need. Complex problems need complex solutions, and we need to think differently about our approach to food systems in the short, medium and long term”
Jose Luis Chicoma

As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, the Black Sea vessels of hope are the perfect representation of “the collaborative work of the teams sitting around the table at the JCC that embodies what we can achieve with political will, top operational expertise, and collective effort.”