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Hungry World Getting Worse: UN's Guterres

FILE - A wheat warehouse in Luky village, in western Ukraine, on March 25, 2022. The northwestern Lviv region near the border with Poland, far from the heart of what is known as Ukraine's breadbasket in the south, is being asked to plant all the available fields it can.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that the world faces an unprecedented hunger crisis, with a risk of multiple famines this year and a worse situation in 2023.

The world has perhaps never seen this level of simultaneous agricultural disruption, according to agriculture executives, industry analysts, farmers and economists interviewed by Reuters, meaning it may take years to return to global food security.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a major agricultural exporter, sent prices of wheat, soy and corn to near records earlier this year. Poor weather has also reduced grain harvests in China, India, South America and parts of Europe. Fertilizer shortages meanwhile are cutting yields of many crops around the globe.

Ukraine's grain output could take years to rebuild after fighting wrecked crop handling, storage and shipping infrastructure in a country that accounted for as much as 17% of global corn exports and 11% of wheat exports before the war.

The war will create a global wheat shortage for at least three seasons, according to Ukraine's agriculture minister.

"Typically when we're in a tight supply-demand environment you can rebuild it in a single growing season. Where we are today, and the constraints around boosting production and (war in) Ukraine ... it's two to three years before you get out of the current environment," said Jason Newton, chief economist for fertilizer producer Nutrien Ltd.

Juan Luciano, CEO of grain trader Archer-Daniels-Midland Co expects global crop staples to remain in low supply for at least two years.

Ahead of a crucial North American harvest, grain seeding delays from Manitoba to Indiana have sparked worries about lower production. A smaller corn crop in the top-producing United States will ripple through the supply chain and leave consumers paying even more for meat than they already are, as corn is a key source of livestock feed

The difficulty planting corn, the single largest grain crop in the world, in the northern United States adds to a string of troubled crop harvests worldwide that point to multiple years of tight supplies and high food costs.

U.S. farmers may also leave unplanted some 3.2 million acres earmarked for corn and instead file prevented planting insurance claims that can compensate them when weather prohibits planting, according to University of Illinois economists.

The problems extend north across the border in Canada, where heavy snowfall through April was followed by a May rain storm that washed out Gary Momotiuk's fields

"It was just wild how high the water was," said Momotiuk, 49, who farms near Dauphin, Manitoba. "It was probably the first time we could catch fish right in the farmyard."

In mid-June, Momotiuk still had 1,200 acres unplanted. He abandoned plans to sow profitable canola and wheat crops because they would not have time to mature, and hoped to seed barley to feed his cattle.

Manitoba, the third-biggest provincial grower of spring wheat and canola in Canada, left 880,000 acres unplanted, the most in eight years and representing 9% of the province's insured farmland, according to its agriculture department.