UN agency in talks with India on wheat procurement amid Ukraine war

World Food Programme report talks of a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance

Published - May 05, 2022 10:34 pm IST - United Nations

Women harvesting wheat on the outskirts of Lucknow.

Women harvesting wheat on the outskirts of Lucknow. | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has said that it is in discussions with India on procurement of wheat as several countries face food security challenges amid the Ukraine war.

“We are in discussions with India on procurement of wheat. So, that is something which is ongoing,” the WFP’s Chief Economist Arif Husain said at a news conference here on Wednesday.

He was responding to a question on India having a huge surplus of wheat and whether the organisation was doing anything to utilise this stockpile with India as the Russia-Ukraine war has exacerbated the global food security situation.

To a different question on whether restrictions by the World Trade Organisation over how much India can export should be suspended amid the current emergency, Mr. Husain said one of their recommendations is about exemption of the WFP from export bans.

He noted that a couple of weeks ago, several agencies of the UN had encouraged governments not to impose export bans, which then artificially increased the price or reduced the availability of major staple commodities. “So this is something which is a very big recommendation and hopefully, countries are listening,” he said.

India's wheat production stood at 109.59 million tonnes in the 2020-21 crop year (July-June).

Earlier this year, India began sending shipments of wheat to Afghanistan. India has committed to supplying 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan, which will be delivered through Pakistan’s land route. The grain will be delivered to the UN agency World Food Programme for supply to the Afghan people.

The World Food Programme launched the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises on Wednesday in which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the war in Ukraine is “supercharging” a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance — with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies.

“All this comes at a time when developing countries are already struggling with cascading challenges not of their making — the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and inadequate resources amidst persistent and growing inequalities,” he said.

The report said that globally, levels of hunger remained alarmingly high. In 2021, they surpassed all previous records as reported by the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC), with close to 193 million people acutely food insecure and in need of urgent assistance across 53 countries/territories. This represents an increase of nearly 40 million people compared to the previous high reached in 2020.

The report warned that the outlook for global acute food insecurity in 2022 is expected to deteriorate further relative to 2021.

“In particular, the unfolding war in Ukraine is likely to exacerbate the already severe 2022 acute food insecurity forecasts included in this report, given that the repercussions of the war on global food, energy and fertilizer prices and supplies have not yet been factored into most country-level projection analyses,” it said.

In 2021, almost 70% of the total number of people in crisis or worse or equivalent were found in ten countries/territories: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, northern Nigeria, the Syrian Arab Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Pakistan and Haiti. In seven of these, conflict/insecurity was the primary driver of acute food insecurity.

The report also added that as Bangladesh continues to grapple with the economic recovery from two years of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and the accompanying economic impact have had reverberating repercussions across markets from the end of February 2022. Bangladesh imports 10.7% of its total imported food commodities from the Russian Federation and 4.5% from Ukraine. It is one of the world’s biggest wheat importers, buying around 6 million tonnes annually, chiefly from India, Canada, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

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