As the world comes to terms with a potential global food crisis triggered by the conflict in Ukraine, a group of researchers have come up with a seven point action plan to mitigate supply and price shocks and to improve resilience to future crises.
In the short term, the authors from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recommend the removal of biofuel subsidies, targeting social safety nets to the most vulnerable, addressing inefficiencies in current subsidies and boosting funding to humanitarian programs. In the long term, they have called for expanding wheat production in high-productivity areas (such as North America and Europe) and in regions with climate conditions suitable to growing wheat (such as Sudan and Nigeria), and raising agricultural productivity in low production zones (especially Ethiopia and South Africa).
Marco Ferroni, Chair of CGIAR System Management Board: “This conflict further exposes the fragility of the global food system and puts the food and nutritional security of millions of people at risk. While the global community must step up to address the urgent humanitarian needs of those most directly affected now, we must also be better prepared for future food shocks.”
INVEST IN REAL-IME ANALYSES NOW; Noting that the present crisis is disproportionally affecting the poor in developing countries, the report calls for Real-time monitoring of food and input price volatility, along with country-specific analyses of food security risks from price shocks and trade restrictions. These could include minimizing disruptions to food exports; expanding social protection and food assistance programs, especially in poor countries already beset by COVID-19; and monitoring their effectiveness using up-to-date household data and modelling tools household data and modelling tools, the researchers added.
ASSESS MARKET INTERVENTIONS: The researchers note that there may be some limited scope for the internationally coordinated use of existing food reserves to offload pressure on global prices, as India is offering to do. However, they point out that farmers could also be provided with subsidies or reduced taxes on inputs such as fertilizer and energy, trade-offs could be significant, requiring careful analysis and research to identify possible unintended consequences. Countries, especially low income ones in Africa, must have sufficient means to sustain (temporary) subsidies in fertilizer and other inputs to avoid productivity losses due to reduced fertilizer usage. For low-income countries with limited fiscal space, such a response may require additional budgetary support through international assistance.
DO NOT WORSEN THE SITUATION: The researchers stated in the report that countries should avoid sanctions and export restrictions that obstruct food and fertilizer trade, and should not engage in hoarding or panic buying to increase national stocks of food reserves. They should also avoid targeting subsidies to specific crops to influence production outcomes.
PROPERLY TARGET SHORT-TERM RESPONSES: Short-term measures that have proven effective in previous crises and also seem applicable today include removing biofuel subsidies and mandates, targeting social safety nets to the most vulnerable, addressing inefficiencies in current subsidies, boosting funding to humanitarian programs, and encouraging emerging markets to allow market prices to guide producer and consumer decisions.
LARGE AND SUSTAINED INVESTMENTS IN CLIMATE-FRIENDLY AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH: researchers should monitor spatial patterns in wheat and other grain crops, ascertain the areas with the best comparative advantage for particular crops, model potential impacts on food security and nutrition, and identify the infrastructure, workforce, and agricultural extension needed to make this scenario a reality. Promoting other crops that are more naturally resilient to the high temperatures experienced under climate change may be a sounder long-term plan, given the increasing difficulty of growing wheat in traditional regions.
SEIZE UPON—AND SCALE UP_PROMISING TECHNOLOGIES: Innovations such as satellite and remote sensing imagery and data can help farmers optimize their application of inputs such as fertilizer and help researchers track the spread of pests and pathogens. Early Warning systems can forecast natural disasters, famines, food price volatality, social unrest, and more. INVEST IN THE SCIENCE OF POLICY: Countries, multilateral organizations, and donors need to not only direct resources to the science of agriculture, but also to research on the optimal policies, programs, and interventions that can build up resilience.