by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, April 28 (Xinhua) -- With surging global commodity prices, a food supply crisis is looming large, especially in several Middle Eastern and North African nations, experts have said.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has a "profound impact" on international commodity prices, given the two countries' important roles in global grain market, Desmond Lachman, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former official at the International Monetary Fund, told Xinhua.
According to the World Bank's Commodity Markets Outlook report published in April, the Russia-Ukraine conflict will increase oil prices in 2022 by more than 40 percent, and non-energy prices by almost 20 percent. Wheat prices are forecast to grow by more than 40 percent this year, reaching an all-time high in nominal terms.
David Laborde, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told Xinhua that Middle Eastern and North African countries, especially some developing countries like Lebanon or Yemen, "will face the brunt" of the current conflict in Ukraine, as their economic and political situations give them little flexibility to adjust to the crisis.
The chaos in Ukraine "threatens to further exacerbate" the food insecurity emergency in Yemen, the IFPRI said in its blog in March.
Yemen's civil war has ravaged that country, and the "serious" impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have further "worsened the country's precarious food situation," the institute said.
Yemen relies heavily on imports, the blog noted, adding that the Russia-Ukraine crisis threatens to "exacerbate undernourishment" by increasing the cost of food and energy products.
South Asian countries like Bangladesh could also be hurt by the ongoing military conflict in Europe, which has disrupted the global trade of key foods such as wheat and vegetable oil, as well as fertilizers.
Dependent on imports of those items to feed its large population, Bangladesh "faces the prospect of rising food insecurity," according to a report from the IFPRI in late April.
While summer harvests will bring more supplies to the market, prices will remain high for the next several months, as Ukraine's exports have essentially halted, Laborde said.
Of additional concern is the potential of reduced global yields due to reduced use of fertilizers, whose price and availability have been adversely affected by the conflict in Ukraine, Laborde mentioned.
Instead of a sudden shock, "we will see a continuation of high prices, with some spikes when and if bad news happens in the coming weeks," Laborde said.
People in developing nations like Sudan and Afghanistan "are finding it far more expensive to eat," Sara Menker, founder of an artificial-intelligence company that forecasts global agricultural markets, and Rajiv Shah, former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote in an opinion article in The New York Times earlier this month.
In Sudan, rising wheat prices have caused the price of bread to roughly double, the article said, adding that Egypt is "in for a difficult year," as Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, which is 33 percent more expensive than it was at the end of last year.
Moreover, more than half of low-income countries "are in or at high risk of debt distress" as interest rates rise, limiting their ability to borrow money to pay for food, the article said.
At a virtual press conference on April 20, World Bank Group President David Malpass said the Russia-Ukraine crisis has pushed up food prices and hit the poorest the hardest, warning that the food insecurity crisis will last for months and probably into next year.
"The food problem is severe," the World Bank chief said. "The prices crowd out the poorest, so it hits people in poor countries and especially in rural areas the hardest." ■