The views expressed in this guest commentary are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent those of AFN.
The crisis in Ukraine has damaged an already weakened post-Covid global food system. It has also highlighted the vulnerabilities of that system’s interconnectedness. Both Ukraine and Russia are significant producers and exporters of commodities including wheat and maize, meaning that the short-term impact on food security and prices is being felt right across the world. Vulnerable populations in lower-income countries are likely to be the most affected, worsening the global hunger and malnutrition crisis. So as policymakers around the world look to respond and strengthen our collective food security, what other systemic issues and policy interventions should they consider whilst making these decisions?
Climate change and biodiversity risk
When we look at the impact of the Ukraine crisis on food security over the long-term, we must not forget to consider the impacts of climate change. The outlook is increasingly uncertain in the face of accelerating and persistent interruptions. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted that 10% of existing areas for food production could be unsuitable for crops and livestock by mid-century. Unfortunately, these risks are already starting to materialize – such as the recent floods in Australia which caused significant losses and damages to crops.
We also cannot overlook biodiversity and nature loss in this policy discussion. For example, a recent report from the Central Banks & Supervisors Network for Greening the Financial System stated that $235 billion to $577 billion of global crop production depends on pollination. This underscores how vital it will be to ensure farming methods do not have unintended consequences for ecosystem services.
Agriculture policy is key
Agricultural policy is a challenging and complex area to reform. This is not surprising given many operations rely on government programs to stay viable. As a sector, this is key to strengthening global food security – and to a ‘just transition’ to net-zero emissions (agriculture amounts to 10% of total EU emissions). It is therefore necessary that policymakers across markets look to reform their agricultural programs and regulation in the short term, enabling delivery against long-term sustainability goals and challenges.
In this regard, a group of investors with over $2 trillion in assets under management — backed by FAIRR, LGIM, Chatham House, and a consortium of other policy experts — last year called on the EU to align reforms of its Common Agricultural Policy with climate change and nature goals. The letter highlighted that proposals for reform do not go far enough, and risk undermining the EU’s own net-zero commitment. In addition, sustainable agricultural investments have the potential to deliver triple wins for climate, nature, and health ecosystems – turning agriculture and land use systems into a net ‘carbon sink.’
Next steps: localize and diversify
If we compare the energy sector and fossil fuel dependence, the Ukraine crisis highlights the high level of dependence that extant food systems have on inputs such as animal feed and fertilizer. Currently, 60% of the world’s maize crop and 20% of the world’s wheat crop is fed to livestock, leading to greater competition between food and feed. Russia is also a major producer of fertilizer, accounting for 13% of global output.
The current geopolitical situation could prove to be a ‘catalyst’ for more localized investment in sustainable food, such as diversifying into alternative protein and agroecological approaches. Investing in sustainable protein innovations can reduce pressure on grain for animal feed as well as land resources. Meanwhile, investing in agroecological approaches can decrease dependence on fertilizer.
As we reflect on the current crisis and look ahead to these increasing pressures — and the risk of further political complexities — there is a clear need to support sustainable agriculture through regulation and policy. Agricultural programs should be reformed to deliver on both climate change mitigation and long-term food security. Agricultural policy must enable a ‘just transition to net zero, minimize biodiversity loss, and build a more robust, resilient, and stable global food system.
As an example, if we look at an EU level again, we would be keen to see the Farm to Fork shift towards a more resilient and sustainable farming system – and secure food supplies over the long term. The EU should keep up the momentum generated from the Green Deal and follow through on its ambitious plans to restore biodiversity, reduce pollution and ensure climate stability.