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Food Security in Ukraine

I am Dr Martine Barons, Director of the Applied Statistics & Risk Unit here at Warwick. I am an expert in household food security, especially in high income countries. Like many people, I had not considered specifically the role of Ukraine until recently and I would like to acknowledge Sam Baillie, a student on Masters in Food Security whose project on The effects of the war in Ukraine on Global food security [1]. was a useful starting point in preparing for this conference.

1. What do we mean by household food security?According to the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security, food security is defined as meaning that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life [2]. The reference to preferences incorporates understanding that food can have important cultural meaning and goes beyond fuel for optimising bodies. Food security has four pillars: access, availability, utilisation, and stability, all of which can be undermined by conflict.

2. In low income countries, household food security can be undermined by lack of infrastructure to get food to market, lack of suitable storage increasing post harvest losses, weather variability and crop protection capability. These lead to immediate effects on households, which can last until the next harvest. In high income countries, these are ameliorated by an ability to import, store and distribute food, so household food security is more strongly influenced by the financial availability of food. In countries like Australia and USA, physical distances to food shops also play a part. 4-12% of households are food insecure in high income countries like the UK.

3. Food security at all scales is closely linked energy security and water security, as food production is energy and water intensive, so we speak about the food, water, energy nexus. At household level the cost of energy and water influence the funds available for food, and food is typically the only flexible item in the low income household budget and so the first to be cut when other costs rise. Emergency food relief, such as food banks, are a response to food insecurity but are incapable of addressing the root causes and so prevent food insecurity. Food Banks have become endemic in the USA and Canada, but became common more recently in the UK following the 2008 financial crash as many ppl found themselves reliant on welfare and benefit systems for the first time.

4. Food availability has always been a political issue. In his book Oceans of Grain [3], Scott Reynolds Nelson describes the rise and fall of nations’ prosperity in terms of their ability to produce and trade grains, especially wheat, particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century. More recently, as food prices soared in the wake of the global downturn in 2008, riots were seen in places like Cameroon, Haiti, Egypt, Somalia and Yemen. Lagi and colleagues at the New England Complex Systems Institute found that the best fit to the FAO Food Price Index data was a model containing biofuel, which drove a steady increase in corn price as more was diverted to ethanol production, and volatility driven by investor speculation on food prices[4]. These researchers went on to anticipate the riots of 2011 which we call the Arab Spring [5].

5. As we have heard, Ukraine and Russia are significant exporters of wheat, barley, corn, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil [6]. Russia is also a significant exporter of Nitrogen, Potassic, and Phosphorus fertilisers [7]. Despite the fact that food and fertilisers are exempted from sanctions, prices have risen significantly as portions of the Ukrainian crops are lost to world markets as a result of the conflict and Russian blockades.

6. In his 2022 book On Tyranny and On Ukraine [8], Levin Professor of History at Yale and Ukraine expert Timothy Snyder points out that Ukraine has long fulfilled the role of provider to other countries. He states that ancient Athenians were able to grow their sacred Olives because their needs for staples came from what we now call southern Ukraine and it is this land which gives rise to the mythology of the Elysian fields and Griffins guarding fields of gold. He also points out that Stalin and Hitler both wanted to shape the world by controlling Ukrainian grain.

7. Snyder considers that Russia’s president Putin will use hunger to succeed in three stages, first by destroying the Ukrainian state, by cutting off its exports, second by generating refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, areas usually fed by Ukraine to destabilise the EU. And finally a world famine so that when the food riots begin and starvation spreads, Russian propaganda will blame Ukraine, and call for Russia's territorial gains in Ukraine to be recognized, and for all sanctions to be lifted.

8. Whatever the eventual outcome, Household food security’s 4 pillars are all affected:

    1. access, as food prices of staples and their main substitutes rise out of reach for some, possibly many households
    2. availability, as supplies are reduced globally and displaced persons increase demand on some locales
    3. utilisation, as refugees, Ukrainian and others, are cut off from essential food preparation equipment and facilities,
    4. and stability as the conflict affects food production, incomes, energy and water security.



[1] The effects of the war in Ukraine on Global food security. Sam Baillie (2022) Student devised assessment: Explanation HR933, MSc degree: Food security

[2] "Food Security".

[3] Oceans of Grain (2022) Scott Reynolds Nelson, pub Basic Books, Hachette Book Group, New York

[4] The Food Crises: A quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam New England Complex Systems Institute 238 Main St. Suite 319 Cambridge MA 02142, USA arXiv:1109.4859v1 [q-fin.GN] 21 Sep 2011

[5] The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam New England Complex Systems Institute 238 Main St., Suite 319, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA arXiv:1108.2455v1 [physics.soc-ph] 11 Aug 2011 (Dated: July 19, 2011; revised August 10, 2011)

[6] Bentley, A. (2022) Broken bread — avert global wheat crisis caused by invasion of Ukraine.

Nature, 603: 551. Available from: doi: (Accessed 23

March 2022).

[7] Emediewu, L. (2022) How is the war in Ukraine affecting global food security. [online] Available


(Accessed 2 April 2022).

[8] On Tyranny and On Ukraine Lessons from Russia’s war on Ukraine (2022) Penguin Random House Audio Publishing.